Children's books and book reviews - reading resource for kids, teachers, librarians, parents

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Stray* by Stacey Goldblatt- young adult book review  
by Stacey Goldblatt
Grades 7+ 288 pages Delacorte May 2007 Hardcover    

Stray is Stacey Goldblatt’s charming debut novel about sixteen-year-old Natalie Kaplan, her love of dogs, and the summer when a mysterious, attractive seventeen-year-old boy, Carver Reed, moves into the room above her family’s garage and romance blossoms. It’s a book teen girls are sure to love, though it is a fun, entertaining read for people of all ages. Anyone who has had a pet dog in their lives can easily identify with Natalie, as can any teen who thinks his or her mother or father is controlling and domineering, as Natalie’s mother is with her. She thinks her veterinarian mom might be like that with her because of the divorce from her dad, who has written a book on dog behavior and training dogs called The Manifesto of Dog:
After we moved, it didn’t take long for Mom to assume the control panel Dad had once manned. Perhaps she regretted not having kept her husband on a shorter lease, because she tightened the one on me, conveniently forgetting the reward segment of Pavlov’s dog experiments.
Natalie, who loves dogs so much she immediately thinks to herself when she meets someone what kind of dog that person would be, feels she’d probably be an Ibizan hound, since they are quiet, playful, loyal, smart, and obedient. Though these can all be good traits, she resents her mom’s many rules, restrictions on what she’s allowed to do, and lack of trust in her. The summer this novel takes place is about Natalie’s pushing of the limits of her mom’s rules, and her striving to gain a measure of independence, as much as it is one of young love.

At first, her mother’s announcement that Faith’s (her “roommate at Tuft’s”) son is going to move in with their family seems one further example of her mother’s unfairness. Her mother tells her about it like it’s a done deal without discussing it with Natalie, which was unfair enough. She’s met Carver before and has bad memories of that encounter – he fed her pug Troy chocolate chips, which are poisonous for dogs. Troy didn’t die, but probably only because he “threw up all over Mom’s Persian rug.” On top of this, Natalie really doesn’t like it when her mom tells her Carver will be staying in the room above the garage, which her mom had promised she could have:
Snap! I want to leap out of my chair and scream. Mom said I could start fixing up that room this summer. That it could be my space.
She’s talked her two best friends, Nina and Kirby, into taking U.S. History with her this summer - that way they can get that requirement over with and be able to have a free period their senior year. After the class, Natalie works at her mom’s animal clinic, where Carver is also working. He’s postponing college at Purdue for a semester, and Natalie’s mom told Faith he could work there to get veterinarian experience before he accompanies Faith “on her Physicians for Humanitarianism mission to Africa this fall.”

Though Natalie’s mom gives them both, separately, speeches about “boundaries,” to Natalie, of course, this is one further example of her mom trying to control her life and not trusting that she’ll make the right decisions. How can a person make the “right decisions” when she's never given a chance to exercise her own free will? Natalie, who in general is very honest, lies to her mom about other girls drinking wine at a “slumber party” she attends (she doesn’t drink any) because she’s afraid of her mom’s reaction, worried that she might place even more restrictions on her.

She lies or doesn’t mention the entire truth about lots of other things in the novel because she fears her mom’s potential reaction. Her lies just make it more difficult for her to face her mom and tell her the truth when Natalie gets caught forging a note to explain why she left class early one day – she really leaves meet Carver at the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, the school calls her mom about the note, because she leaves out the “c” in the word “excuse.” The restrictions and punishments her mom imposes don’t stop them from wanting and scheming to be together at every opportunity.

Stray will register with anyone who has had to live under parental rules. Who of us hasn’t experienced and complained about the unfairness of it, even sometimes recognizing that life often is not fair? We all have limitations placed on us and have to bear the consequences of our actions.

Stacey Goldblatt’s novel is funny, and reading about Natalie’s exploits with her friends and her romance with Carver brings to mind similar things in readers’ own lives. Natalie pushes her mom’s limits, but she is really on the whole a nice, fun-loving, normal teen. Her love of dogs is endearing, and I like the quotes at the beginning of each chapter taken from her dad’s book. Sometimes the quotes relate to experiences she’s going through, though she is a human instead of a dog. I look forward to reading more books from this gifted author in the future.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

click here to browse children's board book reviews
click here to browse children's picture book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young adult book reviews
click here to browse parenting book reviews
web reviews
  Douglas R. Cobb/2008 for curled up with a good kid's book  

For grown-up fiction, nonfiction and speculative fiction book reviews,
visit our sister site Curled Up With a Good Book (