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To Night Owl from Dog Fish

Review

To Night Owl from Dog Fish

Co-writing a novel works best when the styles of the two authors combine into something that is more than the sum of their talent put together. The hilarity, ingenuity and utter heartfelt quality of Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolizer’s middle grade collaboration TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH is a perfect example of this dynamic.

Bett Devlin is an adventurous, bold daring girl who loves surfing and cares for all animals. Bett is a dogfish, doing things her own way and breaking every rule she can. Meanwhile, Avery Bloom follows all the rules, especially the ones she establishes for herself. Bookish, intense and extremely fearful of everything from deep water to Mad Cow Disease (but she’s a vegetarian, so she’ll never have to worry about that), Avery lives life inside the lines. Watchful and careful, she is a night owl.

"A book like TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH is middle grade contemporary fiction at its best: charming, clever, witty and heartwarming. Overall, this book is a warm and fuzzy hug that you will have trouble letting go of after you flip the last page."

Written as a series of e-mails, letters and the occasional text message, this is a clever, witty story about two 12-year-old girls whose single dads start dating. Then, the dads ship them off, against their will, to the same summer camp to bond while they take a motorcycle trip across China. The dads hope that Bett and Avery will become friends --- and one day, maybe even sisters. The dads can’t anticipate, however, just how close Bett and Avery will become as their friendship takes on an uncontrollable force. Bett becomes Dogfish. Avery becomes Night Owl. Chaos ensues, sending this cast of loveable, quirky characters on an adventure spanning from New York City to Venice Beach, California to the woods of Michigan to a tarn in Maine.

Simply said, I could not put this book down. Once I started reading it, I was along on a ride that sent me flipping page after page to read more of Bett and Avery’s story. First off, I need to commend the book for its rich and subtle diversity. I saw so much of myself in Avery’s anxiety, from the subtle mention of her therapist to the way her irrational fears consumed her mind so much of the time. I also loved how Avery overcame one of her fears, but you’ll have to read the book to see how that played out. So mental health rep? Check. Bett is also Brazilian and African-American. Avery is Jewish. They both have gay, single dads, the family dynamics of which, from surrogate mothers to deceased fathers, were explained with such loving care and were truly part of the book and all of its richness. So, queer rep? Check. Racial and ethnic diversity? Check.

But this book does more than just check off boxes. Its characters are the heart of the book. They are so rich and complex and quirky and fun. Plus, it helps that both Wolitzer and Goldberg Sloan are masters at perfectly timed narrative twists that push the characters to their emotional limits. So, so, so well done here. The two of them together make this book a feat of narrative acrobatics that had me laughing out loud page after page after page. I’m also just a sucker for books told in a unique format. A book told entirely in funny, zippy emails between two teen girls navigating burgeoning summer romances, first periods, shifting parental relationships and more? Yes, please.

There’s just so much to love about this bold, adventurous middle-grade novel. My only, tiniest complaint about this book is the timing. The best part about emails are that they come with a time stamp, but the e-mails in this book are left date-less, which made me feel like I was floating through time while reading it. At least marking the months during the time jumps in this novel would have added some much-needed clarity, since this book covers such a large swath of time.

That minor critique aside, this book is wonderful. Hilarity? Check. Diverse characters? Check. Fast-paced, rich action? Check. Incredible writing? Check. But again, this book does more than just check boxes. This is honestly a book for anyone who loves books about solid, life-changing friendships, summer camp shenanigans and messy found family. A book like TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH is middle grade contemporary fiction at its best: charming, clever, witty and heartwarming. Overall, this book is a warm and fuzzy hug that you will have trouble letting go of after you flip the last page.

Reviewed by Taylor Tracy on February 26, 2019

To Night Owl from Dog Fish
by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer