DOG DRIVEN, by Terry Lynn Johnson, HMH Books for Young Readers, Dec. 3, 2019, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10 and up)
Dog Driven isn’t the first novel I’ve read by Terry Lynn Johnson, and it certainly won’t be the last. Her high-adventure books are page-turners, and Dog Driven lives up to her reputation.
McKenna Barney loves racing her sled dogs. It’s the most natural thing she can do. So when her sister, Emma, asks her to sign up for a commemorative mail race in the Canadian wilderness, it’s a no brainer. Emma has Stargardt disease, a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss. If McKenna delivers the mail and wins the race, maybe that will put a spotlight on Emma’s condition.
There’s only one problem.
McKenna’s own eyesight isn’t what it used to be. In fact, McKenna is pretty sure she’s got Stargardt’s, too, and if her parents find out, there’s no way they’ll ever let her race again.
McKenna decides the outcome outweighs the risks and sets out with her team of eight sled dogs against racers from around the world. After all, who needs 20/20 vision to complete three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, snow squalls and bitterly cold nights?
Terry Lynn Johnson writes middle-grade adventures based on her experiences living in the wilds of northern Ontario, Canada. It’s because she owns sled dogs and works as a conservation officer for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry that the settings in all her books not only feel real, but immersive as well.
At first, I was concerned that the idea of a young girl traveling alone in the wilds would feel unrealistic, but it doesn’t in fact, it feels quite the opposite. There’s a quiet confidence that runs throughout Johnson’s work that permeates all levels of Dog Driven — from the setting and plot to McKenna and supporting characters.
All of the characters in Dog Driven are strong, with McKenna and her new friend Guy leading the way. The dogs have great personalities as well. McKenna’s parents are probably the weakest players in the book with their varying reactions to Emma’s disease a bit hard for middle graders to understand without further development.
I read Dog Driven in one sitting. I really felt as if I was on the trail with McKenna and felt as if I really understood what life on the trail is like with limited vision. It’s an exciting adventure sure to please middle-graders and older readers alike.
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