Fetching by Kiera Stewart is a darling mix of middle school, friendship and dogs.
Olivia, the protagonist, is plagued by feelings of inadequacy since her mother’s mental illness meant she had to be hospitalized. Olivia feels that she herself is a ticking time bomb — just waiting for the “crazy” gene to appear — when she’ll be institutionalized also.
Olivia has moved to be with her grandmother, Corny, an eccentric woman who collects stray dogs, trains them, and works training others’ dogs. Once Olivia gets over her fear of dogs, she becomes Corny’s assistant trainer.
In middle school, Olivia is bullied and tormented by the set of popular girls and one girl in particular, Brynne. The story begins with a disastrous scene when Olivia is tricked into sitting on a packet of ketchup. The obvious humiliation ensues with lots of laughter — none of it Olivia’s.
Olivia’s friends are also subject to much the same treatment. and Olivia wants them to get out of the social hole they are in. Mulling this over, she comes to the conclusion that middle schools are inhabited by kids who are much like dogs.
So Olivia gets her friends together and explains her plan.
She tells Phoebe, the friend who gets all As, that she in the working group. “Totally goal-oriented…with proper training, they are dignified and devoted companions. Without it, they can be belligerent and high-strung.”
“Any dog can be trained,” she tells them. “If we use dog-training on everyone at school, secretly, of course, we can be the top dogs. Instead of the underdogs.”
The training begins with treats and distractions. The problem is that it works too well. Olivia finds herself estranged from her friends and left with one friend — a former popular girl she has ruined socially.
Now Olivia must figure out how to get her true friends back. She must also figure out what to do with the stack of unopened letters from her mother that she has been shoving under her mattress. Can she come to terms with a “crazy” mother?
The story is written in first person narrative, and that helps the reader jump right into the story and empathize with the characters.
What makes this book a good choice for a middle school book group or a mother-daughter book club is that Olivia is on a journey. Her journey is two-fold: to rise up through the social ranks at her middle school with her friends and to come to terms with her mother’s mental illness.
She does both — admirably.