Pawcasso by Remy Lai, 240 pp, RL 3

 
Pawcasso by Remy Lai

Review Copy from Henry Holt

After two illustrated middle grade novels, Pie in the Sky and Fly on the Wall, Remy Lai has written a graphic novel! If you have read her first two books (and if you haven't you MUST) you will recognize themes of loneliness, an absent parent and communication challenges in Pawcasso. And, while these themes sound serious, if you have read Lai's other books, you will know that she has an epic sense of humor (and a love of fart jokes) and a talent for balancing the serious and hilarious, the perfect mix of salty and sweet (just like Jingwen's caramel sauce in Pie in the Sky). 

Jo sits, staring out her living room window, a long, lonely summer (and a not-so-great attitude) ahead of her, when a (seemingly) ownerless dog changes everything. Intrigued by this dog with a basket in its mouth, Jo runs out her front door and follows it into town, watching as it enters stores and shops, presumably for its owner. Heading into Dog Ears, the town bookstore, Jo follows and finds herself (and the dog) invited to join an art class and a book club, everyone assuming that she is the dog's owner, making her the perpetrator of a "Chihuahua-sized" lie that soon grows to "Great Dane-size."

Intrigued by the mystery of the dog that walks (and shops) itself, and buoyed by the attention she is getting when she's with the dog, Jo doesn't correct people when they assume she is the owner of Pawcasso, a name she gives the dog after he is invited to model for the art class. Shop owners are excited to finally meet the owner of the shopping dog they have been doing business with, adding to Jo's growing circle of friends. Happily, as Pawcasso has a penchant for rolling in poop, Jo befriends Rachel, the daughter of dog groomer and neighbor of Mr. ICC (short for I'll Complain to the City Council), a man with a mission to get all dogs, especially Pawcasso, on leashes.

As Jo copes with missing her father, who travels for work, and searches for the owner of Pawcasso, she works to keep her new friends from uncovering her own secrets. This gets increasingly harder as Pawcasso becomes a local celebrity, even sparking a petition to get the City Council to change their leash laws - a petition that divides the town into Picassos (no leash laws) and Duchamps (leash laws), named for the rival artists and subjects in the painting class. Inevitably, things fall apart for Jo and she finds herself alone again. But, she comes up with a brilliant (and delicious) way to say she is sorry and reunite her fractured community.

For a story centered around an independent dog, Lai manages to layer her story with many aspects of human connection. Jo's book group, reading a book (it's not named in Pawcasso, but Lai's illustration is clearly of the Newbery Honor book, The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani) where the main character wonders, "If love comes from the heart, does hate come from the brain?" and it is this question that Jo thoughtfully returns to as she makes her apology. Lai ends her "pawfect" graphic novel, which is packed with more plays on the word "paw" than I thought possible, with Pawcasso about to gleefully roll in a fresh pile of poop as Jo and friends look on, horrified. Remy Lai definitely gets dogs, her own dog (named Poop-Roller) serving as model for Pawcasso and Maomi, the family dog from Fly on the Wall. And, keeping with her tradition of sharing a recipe related to her book in the back matter, Lai shares Jo's recipe for ice cream that is perfect for "dogs and hoomans."


Don't miss these SUPERB books by Remy Lai
Pie in the Sky                 Fly on the Wall

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