Gather by Kenneth Cadow 2023

A friend in Vermont suggested I read this YA novel, a debut work by a resident of the Upper Valley who has been nominated for a National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature.

The book is told in the first person by Dorian Gray Henry, a 15 year old boy living in rural Pennsylvania with his mother.  Ian and his mother are land rich with 100 acres of woods, streams, and fields, but cash poor since his estranged father stopped child support payments and his mother became addicted to pain killers after hurting her back lifting an elderly person at the nursing home where she worked. Early in the book, we meet Gather, a large, mixed breed dog (Great dane Irish wolfhound, Mastiff, all of the above?), who shows up one day at Ian’s side and stays for the rest of the book.  Ian experiences all of the tumultuous emotional and physical stress of adolescence but to the nth degree.  He’s clearly an attractive and likable kid as teachers, guidance counsellors, neighbors, and family friends are drawn to him and try to help him but life is cruel and things are very tough.

At first, I was put off by what I interpreted as the basic, somewhat elementary style, language, and plot which I assumed was targeted at the YA audience, but while the style may have been a bit adolescent in manner, the plot and the characters were fully developed and sophisticated.

If you’re a dog person or still struggling with your own, a child’s or a grandchild’s teen aged angst, you’ll find this book satisfying and engaging. It would be lovely if this veteran school teacher were to win a National Book Award for his debut novel. Might even invite him to our Vermont town’s library to do a reading!