The Dog Who Was There is the story of a dog and his experiences of first century Judea and as a witness to the final days of Jesus. After finishing this book earlier this week, I posted a review and then quickly took it back down. The review focused on the book’s shortcomings, and as soon as it was posted it occurred to me that I hadn’t addressed the primary issue – my approach to the book.
My mistake was that I had approached this as a book written for adults, to be read by adults. Upon reflection, I realized that this is a family book. Much as family movies seem to be aimed at younger viewers, at times with elements woven in to appeal more to the adults, this is a book meant to be read by a wide range of ages. This is a book to be shared and enjoyed together.
It opens with a warm, cozy feel and the story is told in third person from the point of view of Barley, a young dog. Barley, as the lead character, will definitely engage the younger members of the family. Written at what feels to be a middle grade level, this book would lend itself to shared reading or read-aloud, perhaps after being previewed for the level of violence in certain scenes.
The writing is competent and approachable though quite repetitive, particularly in the over-use of character names. Over the span of two pages, for example, where the main character Barley and his new master Samid are in a scene, barely a sentence seems to go by without one or both of them being named. And while I thought that having the back story of how he came to be separated from his mother being told through a puppy dream was a cute device, it felt a bit clumsy to immediately follow this with a flash-back to explain how he came to live with the elderly couple we first meet as his masters.
The main attraction of this novel is that it is the story of the crucifixion as witnessed by a dog who was, as the title states, there. While this is indeed the case, it is not in the crucifixion of Jesus, or the “Kind Man” as he is called (repeatedly), but in the death of Samid on one of the three crosses that is most touching and most impactful. The actual witnessing of Jesus’ journey to Golgotha and death on the cross receives a surface portrayal and is very much just something seen in passing.
Barley’s story has a happy ending and while there multiple scenes with violence and other potentially upsetting events, it is a sweet and poignant story that does include his witnessing of the greatest story ever told. However, more informed readers are likely to find fault with the historical and cultural inaccuracies as well as the cameo appearances of Jesus, who is mainly referred to as the Teacher and then as the Kind Man.
While Barley’s point of view is definitely a new approach to a well-known story, this is a book I suggest be read either by a younger reader or as a family but I can not recommend it for adult readers. However, if you absolutely adore stories told from an anthropomorphized dog’s point of view and the premise interests you, don’t let this stop you. After all, this is just one reader’s opinion and your experience of the story might be quite different.
This review refers to a free copy received from Thomas Nelson and Zondervan’s Fiction Guild, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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