Duke by Kirby Larson: A Good Opportunity As a Book, But Definitely Not My Favorite By Larson

A poignant World War II story about a boy and his dog and his dad, and the many meanings of bravery, from Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson.

With World War II raging and his father fighting overseas in Europe, eleven-year-old Hobie Hanson is determined to do his part to help his family and his country, even if it means giving up his beloved German shepherd, Duke. Hoping to help end the war and bring his dad home faster, Hobie decides to donate Duke to Dogs for Defense, an organization that urges Americans to “loan” their pets to the military to act as sentries, mine sniffers, and patrol dogs. Hobie immediately regrets his decision and tries everything he can to get Duke back, even jeopardizing his friendship with the new boy at school. But when his father is taken prisoner by the Germans, Hobie realizes he must let Duke go and reach deep within himself to be brave. Will Hobie ever see Duke, or his father, again?

Book descriptions taken from Goodreads.

Normally, I really enjoy Kirby Larson’s work, but DUKE–in some ways–just didn’t work for me. Let’s start out with the good stuff.

This has typical Larson written all over it. It’s historical, for one thing, and the minute I cracked out the book to start reading it I could tell it was her writing style. It did surprise me that it’s about a boy but that was easily gotten over. There were lots of great details on what life was like back then and like Larson’s other books, I really got a feel for the world and what was going on and what people were talking about. I loved Duke himself and he made Hobie a better character, which I appreciated.

There’s something to that, though.

I would’ve loved if this book had been in two perspectives, Hobie’s and Duke’s. It would’ve been really interesting to see things Ann-M.-Martin style through Duke’s eyes about his experiences without Hobie. I think it would be particularly interesting because of the fact that Duke was overseas most of the time he was gone.

Then with the one major thing I didn’t like about this book. The ending is predictable.

It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I know what’s going to happen. There’s something to be said about predictable and not predictable endings and there’s a reason why people love original stuff. I have to admit I feel like this book was a little young compared to the rest of Larson’s work. Normally, it feels like normal MG to me but this could go out to a slightly younger audience that is interested in dogs and war. I guess this book just wasn’t for me. I think that it could be really enjoyable for slightly younger MG books and open up Kirby Larson to them. I think this story is a good opportunity, but definitely not my favorite by Larson. 3.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 240

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