the Best Dog in Vietnam
by Cynthia Kadohata
This one is a fictional account about a dog that goes to Vietnam. Cracker's family can't keep her after moving into a small apartment, and her boy Willie especially is in despair when he fails to find her a new home. He can't bear to take her to the animal shelter. Then he sees a notice that the US Army is looking for good dogs to use in Vietnam. Willie feels sure that Cracker will be the best dog in Vietnam. It's still very hard for him to give up his dog, and he continually writes letters to Cracker's new handler, Rick Hanski. Rick for his part, is out to prove himself but never owned or trained a dog before. Together he and Cracker learn new skills and before they know it, are shipped out. The story is told through both viewpoints, so you get an idea of the confusion the dog faces, as well as the turmoil Rick is going through. Their trials in the war zone bring them closer together. Cracker's job is a very serious one- she is to sniff out the enemy, booby traps and other dangers, to clear an area for the men following behind. She saves hundreds of lives, but this is a war story and yes there are casualties. While Cracker does suffer injuries and trauma, I'll let you know that in this book the dog doesn't die.
It was a good story, but I grudgingly gave it a 3. The writing style is simplistic and many times I found myself rather bored with it. Of course, I'm not really the target audience so this is not a flaw of the book itself. It got more interesting towards the end, when I started learning more about the Vietnam War, and in particular one section where Cracker gets separated from the Army and is on her own. (I was intrigued by the descriptions of an elaborate tunnel system the Vietcong used to hide from their enemies -us- it sounds like entire populations lived underground for many years. Does anyone know of any books written from the their perspective, describing this?) Earlier in the book I was a bit surprised at the casual manner in which the dogs seemed to be trained. The guy Rick didn't seem to know what he was doing, and considering how the Army insisted that the dogs were "specialized military equipment" I'd have thought they were trained with more precision. But I know that wasn't the focus here, so maybe the training aspect was just glossed over.
The ending made me feel sad. While Cracker herself met a good outcome, the Army at the time considered dogs "surplus equipment" at the end of the war. The vast majority of them were either euthanized or left behind with the South Vietnamese Army. It's not like that anymore, as the next book (which I've just started) makes plain- dogs are now brought home and given a chance of quality life, after having served their country.
Rating: 3/5 312 pages, 2007
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