The Pet War, by Allan Woodrow; Scholastic
Press: New York, 2015; $4.99
When I read books I always set my expectations low, and also, I reluctantly admit I literally sometimes judge a book by its cover. The cover of The Pet War is a cartoonish picture of a dog staring down a cat, and that’s how I was drawn in. The plot starts out when the protagonist, Otto, an eleven-year-old boy, is watching a family move away with their dog that he really loved. You get a touch of his personality—likeable but also frustrating. He bargains with his mother back and forth about responsibility, when Lexi, his cat-loving sister, pipes up about getting a cat. They argue fiercely, but finally his mom settles on an agreement that whoever raises five-hundred dollars first to pay for the pet will get theirs. And the war begins.
When they go to their divorced dad’s house, they both kiss up to him to try to get him to agree to get either a dog or a cat, and after they do many chores, he does. One particularly sad symbol of how the “war” was affecting the family was when they traveled to their dad’s house again and didn’t do anything with him. He is pleading, desperate to spend some quality time with them because he misses them, but they are too busy trying to beat each other to do something with him.
As the war gets more intense, their rivalry becomes hate, with too serious name-calling, stealing, insults, and even bullying each other through talking. Otto steals twenty dollars from his sister and rips apart one of her posters, feeling guilty but then justifying it through thinking that Lexi was an enemy of his “country” in the war. Their mom starts to notice, but it is too late, the competition has escalated too far and they have both turned ruthless against each other, ripping everyone and everything out of their lives other than the competition.
Finally, he decides that it has gone too far and gives his sister all his money, confessing his crime. This reminds me of when my stepbrother and I were in an Easter egg hunt, and, after much taunting, I finally snapped and threw my brother’s candy, shouting insults. I think at that point it wasn’t about how many eggs we had retrieved; chocolate really didn’t matter to me then. What mattered to me was getting back at my brother. The real source of it all, the competition, had escalated into something personal.
I finally realized this upon reading this book, and that has had a huge impact on me now.
They do get a cat, but they realize the burden that has been lifted off their shoulders. Otto really does learn how to be responsible and gets along better with his sister. I really liked this book and thought it would be about whether cats are better, or dogs, which was the initial reason I got it, but it really is deeper than that. It is about learning lessons and how family is the most important thing. I recommend this book to pet lovers, but also to anybody who wants to have a sad but also happy, humorous but deep, relatable story. I really loved this book, and I enjoy telling all my friends.