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Laika    by Rick Abadzis order for
by Rick Abadzis
Order:  USA  Can
First Second, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Few will recall the first living being jettisoned into space back in the late 1950s - when both the US and Soviets raced to send men into space. The first creature to leave the face of the planet and orbit the Earth was Laika, a small, dedicated, and determined dog. Laika was trained and eventually deployed on the Sputnik II in early November 1957, less than a month after the first Sputnik was launched, positioning the Soviet Union a giant leap ahead of the United States. Official reports said that Laika lasted several days but the truth is, she survived only hours - long enough to orbit the Earth three times, but not much longer.

What follows in this graphic novel is part composite and part report on how Laika came to be chosen for such a fate. While the facts of her later life can be verified, Abadzis never explains whether the early part of Laika's life has any truth to it or was simply a nice explanation to fit the narrative. According to the story, Laika was brought into the world in a loving family who could not afford to keep the seven puppies her mother bore. She was given to an unwelcoming home, where her owner eventually tried to kill her, but she escaped and became a wanderer until a determined dogcatcher caught her and brought her to an aeronautics facility.

There, she quickly finds love from the head veterinarian Yelena Dubrovsky. New to the job, Dubrovsky forms a deep attachment to all her lab specimens, but a particularly strong love for Laika - at the time Yelena names her Kudryavka. But her love for the dog becomes painful when she discovers that Laika has been selected to man the Sputnik II. Yelena fears for Laika's safety, but seems to have trouble arousing anyone else's concern.

To write Laika's story, Abadzis relies on a number of sources, which he lists along with relevant websites. His mix of fiction and nonfiction, though questionable at times, does prove an excellent way to explore Laika's significance, providing an interesting perspective on the famous dog. He weaves other elements into the story, including relationship subplots and Soviet politics. On the whole, Laika is a fun, albeit morose, depiction of a loveable dog who makes a great sacrifice (having no choice in the matter). Abadzis delivers a story that is enjoyable to, and accessible by, both young and old.

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