Review: It’s NOT Just a Dog (Project Madison #2) by Pam Torres

Review: It’s NOT Just a Dog (Project Madison #2) by Pam TorresIt's NOT Just a Dog by Pam Torres
Series: Project Madison #2
on April 2014

School's out for the summer and straight-talking Madison and her friend Cooper have big plans for the summer: working at the kennel, training service dogs and creating a dog-walking business—besides writing her dog-blog. Her stepdad has agreed to make Lilly, Madison's foster puppy, a permanent member of the Morgan family, and Madison wants to make the adoption special. 

When an injured dog is abandoned, Madison's determined to discover the truth about the orphaned dog. To crack this crime she'll have to sneak around some shady characters. It'll be tricky since her dad isn't happy about her animal detective activities. Her promise not to get into trouble won't be easy. Madison convinces Cooper to strike out on their own, but finds herself locked in a shed with no way out and Lilly is dognapped. She regrets her crime-fighting obsession and realizes her snooping has endangered everyone she cares about. Cooper rallies an unlikely group of rescuers to bust her out.
In the end Madison learns she can depend on her friends and her stepfather. And when it comes to people and dogs, relationships are never simple, and a dog is never—JUST a dog!

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I think Pam Torres really finds her writing groove with It’s NOT Just a Dog. A lot of my criticism from Madison Morgan has gone away. Torres gives us a full story with well-rounded characters. It’s still in first person but she does a better job giving the supporting characters life and dimension. Madison and Cooper’s relationship grows more complicated as they get older … and when Cooper sees Madison at the movies with another boy. I especially liked Donald this time around. I think Torres does a great job showing that bullies sometimes act that way because they’re being hurt too.

The big problem here are the multiple continuity errors found in It’s NOT Just a Dog and in the series. In the first book, Madison’s mother dies when she is 5. At the beginning of It’s NOT Just a Dog, it says she was 3. At the end of It’s Not Just a Dog, she was 4. It may seem like a trivial gripe but it stood out to me. Another little error happened with Chenoa’s character. When we first meet her, Jonah tells Madison that she drove down from out-of-state. At the end of the book, he tells her that he told his mother that Chen had her license but that she really only had a permit. Can you see where I’m going here? It’s little things like this that really make a reader fall out of the story.

Torres is also on shaky ground with the addition of her Native American characters. I thought Jonah was a great character. But his Uncle William is borderline stereotypical. I inwardly cringed when Torres took Madison’s special powers down the Native American mysticism route. It didn’t feel authentic. It felt like a whitewashed reproduction of cultural artifacts. I thought her rendition of a creation story was interesting but I’m pretty sure she took creative license with it because she uses animals known as tricksters within the Native American mythos and doesn’t really refer to them as such. It’s an important point to miss. As important as I think these gripes are, they probably aren’t that important to people who haven’t studied Native American literature as extensively as I have. I’m always a little wary when authors delve into the mythos without extensive research. The links Torres lists in the back of the book don’t really cut it. Anyway.

One last gripe and I’ll talk about some more good stuff. Why doesn’t Madison ever get in trouble? She tells Henry all about her shenanigans at the end of the book and NOTHING HAPPENS. He doesn’t ground her for breaking a promise to him or for almost getting herself, her dog, and her friends killed. She tells him and then we never know what his reaction is. Life goes on as normal. Same thing happened in Madison Morgan. For a guy who talks a lot of consequences, we never actually see Henry really give her any.

Now to more things I liked about the book. I think they call that a compliment sandwich. I love how passionate Madison is about animals and helping to change the world for them. It was heartbreaking to read about Millie. It was SO heartbreaking to watch her learn about dog fighting. I CRIED BIG TEARS during the scene where they had to put Roughneck to sleep. Torres really knows how to pull on those heartstrings. I also hope Cooper finds a dog he can keep. Donald really deserves the black pit bull. I hope the next dog to come along will help Cooper.

In all, Pam Torres gets better with every book she writes. It’s NOT Just a Dog takes readers on a journey into the dangerous world of dog fighting. It’s Madison’s latest quest and the beginning of her animal detective agency, it seems. I love the characters. I love Madison. I also think this book is finally a middle-grade book. I think middle-grade readers are going to really love Madison. Be prepared, though. They’ll probably want a dog after reading it.

 

three-half-stars

© 2014, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.