“Pets have more love and compassion in them than most humans”– Robert Wagner
Wow, I needed this book. I have had several disappointing YA LGBT reads lately. Books where abusers got away with their crimes and date rape was treated as just another mistake. I told myself I was finished with YA novels. But I had already committed to read and review this one. I don’t put much stock in God or Fate or whatever, but this book was the right one for me at the right time. It made me feel hopeful. There are authors writing age-appropriate LGBT fiction! Jennifer Lavoie is one of them. It is not only age appropriate, it is good! I read this in half a day. Made frozen pizza for dinner because I wanted to keep reading.
Aaron Cassidy is physically and emotionally scarred due to a dog attacking him when he was a child. He is now sixteen and with the freedom that comes along with a driver’s license, he decides it’s time to put an end to the cold sweats he gets every time he hears a dog bark. He is going to take charge of his fear and try to beat it. His first step in that direction is to volunteer at a local animal rescue.
While there he meets Finn, a fellow volunteer. Aaron is gay and has lost his two closest friends because he came out to them. While he finds Finn attractive, once he realizes he is straight, they become close friends. Aaron’s sexuality is not the theme of this book. It is not a romance novel, but it is a love story. It is about a young man who finds his peace with a dog, not another human being.
When a horribly abused and scarred pit bull comes to the shelter, Aaron can’t be in the same room as him without his heart racing and a cold sweat breaking out over his whole body. The dog was used as a “bait dog” for dog fighters because he refused to fight. These dogs are usually euthanized, but Happy Endings Animal Foundation is a “limited kill” shelter, meaning they will do everything within their power, for as long as possible, to try to rehabilitate and re-home the dog. It quickly becomes obvious that the dog is drawn to Aaron. The shelter director tells Aaron that he gets the privilege of naming the dog and working closely with a trainer to rehabilitate the dog.
Aaron sees in this dog, with scars so like his own, a chance for him to overcome his paralyzing fear. He also sees this as the dog’s second chance at life. The name comes to him easily: Chance.
Chance and Aaron, along with Finn and the rest of the shelter staff work hard to overcome the trauma of Chance’s past. But the bond between Aaron and Chance is the strongest. They are both helping each other heal. Slowly but surely, Aaron is falling in love with Chance. Soon he is taking other giant steps in overcoming his anxieties. Ms. Lavoie does an excellent job of building a group of supporting characters that feel real and aren’t just there to prop up the main character. They are part of moving the story forward.
Meeting Chance is such a sweet story, so full of love. Aaron matures before our eyes as he takes on more responsibility and makes adult decisions about whom he wants in his life. One of the greatest things about this book for me was that although it is a YA LGBT novel, the fact that the main character is gay is a non-issue, for the most part. I don’t mean to say it’s mentioned once and forgotten, it comes up more than a few times, but the book isn’t about Aaron finding a boy to love. It’s about a boy, who happens to be gay, who bonds with a dog.