Jun 14, 2020

Grip: a Dog Story

by Helen Griffiths

Even though this is juvenile fiction, and has a rather somber subject matter, I found it an excellent read. The characters were totally believable, the plot had unexpected turns that put them in difficult situations, nothing is black-and-white, especially the moral issues. It's about dog fighting. This boy grows up in an unloving home with his single father, whose one passion is breeding bull terriers as fighting dogs. When the boy gets to choose a pup to raise as his own, for the first time he feels stirrings of love, but he doesn't understand it. He wants to be proud of his dog, but as it grows the pup doesn't measure up to his father's standards. So he's ashamed of his closest companion, but still loves it too, feeling torn and unhappy. Worse, he's told he must get rid of his dog if it can't do better after some training; as his father won't tolerate the presence of what he considers sub-par animals. It gets really interesting when another child enters the picture, a fellow student. The boy visits this other kid's house a few times, sees how other families live, and starts to realize that not everyone is as cold and scornful of emotions as his father. He also sees a way to keep the relationship with his dog without facing his father's scorn, but this puts a burden on the other kid. It all works out in the end, however not without some startling brutality. 

I would really have to be careful what kid I handed this book to- there are scenes of dog-baiting for training, and also badgers are used (although one is rescued from that fate to be kept as another kid's pet - which is problematic too). The dog fights are described in detail also, and the attitudes of the people who engage in that activity- some of them value the dogs for what they see as bravery and grit, others are just in it for the betting or bloodlust; all of them scoff at newer standards that breed dogs just for show (dog fights having been outlawed a decade earlier when the story is set, so the men hold them in utmost secret). So it's got a lot of examples of rough living, unkind and even illegal behavior. But it also shows how this negatively affects the family, and how the boy works out for himself that things ought to be different. That's why I found it outstanding. For such a short book, this has so much going on. Incidentally, the main character here made me think a lot of Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden- sour and unhappy at first, then undergoing a significant change- although in this story that transformation is a lot slower and only just beginning to show fruit when the pages close.

Rating: 4/5         129 pages, 1978

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