The Dog, Ray by Linda Coggins is a quick and entertaining read with a tidy conclusion, mainly for dog lovers and readers who enjoy books from an animal’s perspective. I hesitate to call this middle grade novel a fantasy (for spoiler-ish reasons I’ll share below), but the premise is fantastical enough: a girl named Daisy dies in a car accident and is reincarnated in the form of a dog. This happens within the first few pages – the afterlife (or “Job Center”) is odd and perfunctory, seeming to have no overarching purpose other than to kick-start the narrative.
Daisy starts out life as a puppy who is purchased by a woman and her cowardly and unkind son. She quickly meets a homeless man named Jack who inspires her to get back to her human parents, and befriends a young motherless boy named Pip who has fallen in with the kindly Jack while he searches for his father. Daisy, now called Ray, becomes Pip’s loyal companion as they search for Pip’s father together.
While this story begins as a fantasy, it becomes more of an animal perspective novel (still a kind of fantasy but not the kind I was expecting). Ray’s narrative as a human becomes subsumed by her dog instincts by this point and thus is not altogether satisfying. Her need and desire to get back to her parents becomes almost a throwaway plot point, our entryway into the story, and there is something sad about seeing her gradually succumb to this loss of self.
The author treats homelessness as a sanitized Dickensian notion, but even so, readers can enjoy Ray’s simplistic and interesting narration. Ms. Coggins does tie up loose ends, sometimes too neatly, but overall it is enjoyable as Pip and his dog Ray’s story comes to a conclusion.