Review Detail

Kids Fiction 2578
Dedicated therapy dog
Overall rating 
 
4.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Chester is a chocolate lab who is trained as a puppy to be an assistance dog by Penny. When he fails the test because he startles significantly at loud noises, he is offered to a family with a severely autistic son. Penny is not pleased, because Chester is very bright, and she asks Sarah, Gus' stressed out mother, to continue with Chester's training to read flashcards. Sarah agrees, but Gus is not happy with having a dog, and the transition is rough. The school allows the dog in as a therapy dog, but the other teacher in Gus' grade is not pleased. Gus does not speak, and has frequent bathroom accidents, although Chester is able to realize that he is fond of one of the cafeteria ladies, and hopes that he can get Gus to communicate his passions with his parents and teacher. Eventually, the school decides that only certified assistance dogs can be in the school, but when Gus has a seizure, Sarah hopes that Chester can accompany him to school as a seizure dog. Gus is returned briefly to Penny, who doesn't train him for seizure awareness at first, concentrating instead on his ability to read. Eventually, Chester and Gus are able to go to school together and Gus begins to make some progress.
Good Points
Like Rorby's How to Speak Dolphin and Baskin's Anything But Typical, Chester and Gus explores how a character on the autism spectrum fits into his world. Told from the point of view of the dog, we don't see as much of Gus' feelings, but we do see more of the reactions from the people around him. Sarah's frustration and hope are palpable, his teacher's kindness and patience shine through, and we even see Penny's complicated relationship with the dogs she trains. Chester is an exceptionally bright dog, and telling the story through his eyes gives it a fresh appeal to middle grade readers.

Autism is a complicated condition, and is not the same from individual to individual. Gus' seizure disorder makes his medical care even more complicated. Schools have different policies as to how to handle service animals, and I thought that the way the school dealt with Chester was true to life. Since Gus lacked skills in dealing with other students, I can see how a classroom teacher might encourage children to interact with Chester as long as they also included Gus, even though children are usually encouraged to leave service animals alone.

Dog stories like A Dog's Purpose are becoming very popular, and Chester's tale will be popular with readers who enjoy Klimo's Dog Diaries, Pyron's A Dog's Way Home, and Martin's Everything for a Dog.
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