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Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam    by Cynthia Kadohata order for
by Cynthia Kadohata
Order:  USA  Can
Atheneum, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

An injury to a magnificent German shepherd bred as a show dog results in her being given to eleven-year-old Willie by his uncle. Willie calls her Cracker and believes she's 'the best dog in the world.' But when his father is laid off, they're forced to move to an apartment where the landlord doesn't allow dogs.

With no other alternative available to them, the family give Cracker to the army, who need dogs in Vietnam. At first, unhappy and missing Willie, she's not at all cooperative and it looks like they might put her down, but then seventeen-year-old Rick Hanski is assigned to be her handler. He feeds her wieners, calls her 'good girl', and patiently wins her trust, as they learn together, though successes and failures, what the army expects of them. Rick and Cracker befriend two other dog-handlers and their charges, and compete amongst themselves.

Then they're sent to Saigon and on to base camp in Bien Hoa. Rick and Cracker walk point on patrol, where she points out booby traps and alerts the troops to enemy locations. The duo win the respect of the soldiers they work with, and gain a reputation. In addition to routine patrols, they're seconded to a Special Forces mission to rescue prisoners of the Viet Cong - Cracker comes through again, making Rick proud. While Rick and Cracker are in Vietnam, Willie writes regularly. Then things heat up, with injuries and deaths. And Rick wonders what will happen to Cracker after the war.

Finally a mission goes bad, Rick is wounded and evacuated, and Cracker goes missing. We wonder how this will end. Back in the United States, Rick writes to everyone he can think of, and campaigns relentlessly for the dog he left behind. And he and Willie finally meet. Cracker! is a wonderful story - a coming of age for both a young man and that man's best friend - based on what actually happened to dogs serving in Vietnam, where they 'were considered military equipment'. In her Author's Note, Cynthia Kadohata tells us that military policy has now changed to 'No Military Working Dog Left Behind'.

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