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Stray    by Stacey Goldblatt order for
by Stacey Goldblatt
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Sixteen-year old Natalie Kaplan, narrator of Stray, tells us that 'Somewhere along the timeline of my human development, I missed an important socialization period'. Mom is a follow-the-rules parent, acting at home just as she give commands to the dogs in her veterinary practice. Dad, who left the scene for another woman, now travels to promote canine viewpoints - as exemplified in his book The Manifesto of Dog which is quoted from at the beginning of each chapter in Stray. For example: 'A dog that exhibits improper conduct is a social hazard', or 'To a dog, the ultimate reprimand is its owner's lack of response', and 'The pitch of the bark, not the bark itself, conveys the message'.

Natalie ponders that Mom may have one weakness: 'she worships all things scholarly. Anything that smells remotely academic gets inducted into the imaginary Hall of Fame erected in her head. I can only hope to click my heels and see it for myself someday.' That viewpoint is reinforced when Mom announces that Carver Reed (the seventeen-year old son of her college friend) will be visiting for the summer. Carver will help out in the vet practice, but that's not all - Boy Wonder, as Natalie refers to him, will stay in the room above the garage, the space Mom had promised to her daughter! But when Carver arrives, his good looks turn Natalie's head and heart (he's now Poster Boy), and there's 'a nymphlike creature performing acrobatics inside my stomach and doodling 'Carver' on the lining of my aortic valve'. Naturally, Mom opposes any romantic relationship. What to do? Stray ... that is meet secretly.

Before Carver's arrival, Natalie was talked into attending a slumber party where supposed friends dye their hair blue, share a bottle of wine, and compare chest size on a grading scale of varied fruit. A bored Natalie escapes outside to the company of basset hound Bogart, viewing her own chest size as 'no unit of fruit smaller than a raisin'. Natalie yearns to hear Mom say 'Good girl', just as she addresses the dogs. 'More often than not, I know I've done something right when she doesn't say anything. She sure doesn't bite her tongue when I do something wrong.' Complicating Natalie's life, she discovers that so-called friends are taking advantage of her; popular, uncontrolled, Laney sets her sights on Carver; and there is something mysterious about the latter ...

Stacey Goldblatt demonstrates a very effective use of words - the serious mixed with humor, not unlike successful comedy routines. The author bases her characters on her own experiences in junior high and high school, which 'left a residue that I've never been able to forget'. Profoundly, the debut author tells us that 'I believe there is no voice more unique and vital than the raw and unadulterated murmur of teens.' She tells a powerful, impressive, influential, and persuasive story, that grabs the reader and never lets go.

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