Notes from the Dog

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Notes from the Dog Book Poster Image
Gentle charmer of boy redeemed by cancer patient.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story gives a picture of what cancer treatment can be like, and of the pleasures of being part of the community that raises money for a cure, and includes links to further information at the end.

Positive Messages

The author set out to make a statement about cancer, and ended up delivering clear messages about the importance of family and community, of engagement with the world, of savoring the joys of life, and of selflessly taking care of friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Finn and his friend Matthew work hard to help and take care of their new neighbor, who is undergoing cancer treatment.


A reference to "boobs," and to an older couple "living in sin." A group of adults and teens go skinny-dipping.


Electronics brand mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Beer drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the content is mild here: a reference to boobs, to an elderly couple living in sin, and to beer. But the story, about a young woman undergoing cancer treatment, may raise some questions and concerns.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjosh h. November 21, 2017
Teen, 14 years old Written byaustind715 September 23, 2018

Great book and really interesting! love these kinds of books!

This book is very interesting and there are a lot of positive role models and there are a lot of good notes from "The Dog" I would love reading this!!
Kid, 11 years old May 29, 2013

What's the story?

Finn can't figure people out, and prefers to avoid them. His summer vacation plans are "reading as many books as I could right here on my front steps and avoiding people." But when Johanna, who is undergoing breast cancer treatment, moves in to housesit next door she won't let Finn stay in his shell. She gets him involved in gardening, raising money for cancer research, and talking to the girl of his dreams. Slowly Finn begins to discover that people aren't as mysterious as he thought.

Is it any good?

Despite having a cancer patient as a major character, this is a joyous book about life, not death. Whether her brush with serious illness brought out her joie de vivre, or whether she was always this way (the story doesn't tell), Johanna's vivaciousness and extroverted certainty are just the tonic for a lonely, introverted boy like Finn. With humor, strong characters, and vivid set pieces, Paulsen shows once again that you don't need a villain to propel a wonderful story.

Veteran author Gary Paulsen had a purpose beyond the story for writing this, something that can be fatal in the hands of a less experienced writer. He says that he "wanted to do something to show that cancer doesn't win, can't win, won't win." But he goes far beyond that, and shows, through Johanna's connecting of Finn to those around him, that connection to community is vital for everyone,  and provides the reader with a variety of examples of ways to reach to those around them, none of them expensive or difficult. As usual, Paulsen packs a lot into a small space, and this short book will amuse and delight many young readers.

From the Book:
Matthew and I aren't anything alike. I know, for instance, that it's got to be easier to be Matthew than it is to be me. There's something so . . . easy about the way he does everything. He gets better grades than me, even though he hardly ever studies. He's on about a million teams at school, and whatever he does in football, baseball, basketball, tennis or track, he looks confident in a way that I never do.

He has friends in every group at school: the brainy people, who, even in middle school, are starting to worry about the "com app" (that's the universal college application form, but I only know that because I Googled the word after I heard them talking about it so much); the jocks, who carpool to their orthopedic doctor appointments together and brag about torn cartilage and bad sprains; the theater and band and orchestra members, who call themselves the arty geeks and then laugh, like it's some big joke on everyone else; and, of course, the losers.

Like me.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea of loners being brought out of their shells by charming extroverts. Does this happen in real life? Should it?

  • Is there something wrong with being a loner? Is Finn happier as a loner? Would he be in real life?

  • In stories, sick and dying people often make the lives of others better. Does this happen in life too? Is taking care of a sick person an uplifting experience?

Book details

Our editors recommend

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