Review: The Trouble with Tuck

The Trouble with TuckI rang in the new year with a quick trip to visit family in Virginia, where I have a niece in the third grade. My brother honored me by giving her my name as her middle name and making me her godmother, so I try to pay close attention to what she’s up to–despite the distance that separates us. So while I was at their house and found her notebook with this book casually placed on top of it (and her brother informed me that it was for a class assignment in that funny way older siblings have), I thought I’d browse through it a bit while the house was quiet in the afternoon.

I did not expect to be sucked into the story in such a way that I found it impossible to put the book down. Author Theodore Taylor wrote The Trouble with Tuck in 1981 after having heard of a real-life tale of how a young girl in California dealt with her dog’s Progressive Retinal Atrophy. It’s set in the mid-50s and feels rooted in that time. From the product description:

Helen adored her beautiful golden Labrador from the first moment he was placed in her arms, a squirming fat sausage of creamy yellow fur. As her best friend, Friar Tuck waited daily for Helen to come home from school and play. He guarded her through the long, scary hours of the dark night. Twice he even saved her life.

Now it’s Helen’s turn. No one can say exactly when Tuck began to go blind. Probably the light began to fail for him long before the alarming day when he raced after some cats and crashed through the screen door, apparently never seeing it. But from that day on, Tuck’s trouble–and how to cope with it–becomes the focus of Helen’s life. Together they fight the chain that holds him and threatens to break his spirit, until Helen comes up with a solution so new, so daring, there’s no way it can fail.

The story moved me to tears–twice. Even reading the last three chapters aloud to my nephew was challenging, as Helen’s stubbornness warred with Tuck’s.

While this really is a story about the depth of relationship available between humans and their pets, the interesting subtext is how that relationship helps the human side of the equation grow as an individual. Helen isn’t even aware of her parents’ reasoning in giving her the puppy as a gift, but comments by her brothers, and, in the final chapters, her own self-evaluation, clarify her evolution in self-confidence.

I could deeply empathize with Helen’s drive to keep Tuck alive and appreciated the creativity she brought to bear in pursuing that end. On top of which, two days later I got to help my niece write up her first book report and talk with her seriously about the merits of the book she had just finished reading (while laughing internally at the irony that I write these essays for fun, while she faced the daunting task of stringing sentences into paragraphs in a logical way for the first time). For all these reasons, I’m happy to recommend this book to any animal lover–and certainly to any parent or care-giver who wants to enthrall their charge with a moving story about how life with even a disabled pet can enrich the life of the person who is dedicated to their care.

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