Zelly is desperate for a dog. She’s also desperate to get away from her practice dog, which is better known as an empty jug of orange juice. Her grandfather Ace camp up with the whole practice dog scheme and got Zelly to agree to his help before she knew what he was planning. She’s got to take the practice dog, better known as OJ, on walks. She has to feed him and then empty out the resulting mushy food later.
Zelly thinks there’s no way cleaning up fake dog poop is going to convince her parents to let her have a dog. She’s mortified her little brother might tell about OJ, but her family won’t let her back out of this. It doesn’t help that Zelly’s best friend is gone away at summer camp. It helps when Zelly meets Jeremy, the new kid in the neighborhood who is also Jewish like her. But her friendship with Jeremy becomes a problem when they both get harassed by a local bully and when Zelly’s friend returns from camp.
At times Zelly strongly wishes to be back home in Brooklyn, where she lived before her grandmother died. Now her family has to live with Ace in Vermont and he’s nothing like her grandmother. Zelly feels like an outsider and like she’ll always be one.
Zelly’s grandfather is a unpredictable, unforgettable character. He shouts most of his lines throughout the book, which could be a lot of fun in a read-aloud. He lapses into Yiddish frequently. Zelly explains some of his terms and others are found in a glossary in the back.
This story deals with the frustrations of the tween years, the worries of aging grandparents, and the yearning for a pet. At times I was wincing on Zelly’s behalf while at other times I laughed aloud. This would be a great book to share with third and fourth graders (and older students too).