Frankie is having a hard day at their middle school. Make that a hard year. They recently came out to their best friend Dallas as non-binary, and now Dallas is besties with the “mean girls” group and doesn’t hang around with Frankie at all. On top of that, they have a big band recital coming up, and none of the clothes Frankie has tried on for it seem to “fit”.
Frankie feels like they don’t fit anywhere. Their lawyer mom is supportive of their announcement, but school is a hard slog right now, except for the drums. When Frankie plays the drums, they feel like “I know exactly where and what I’m supposed to be.” When Frankie meets a strange dog on the street who really, really wants Frankie to follow her. Frankie has always loved dogs, “because dogs aren’t bullies. They never hide what they’re thinking.” But Frankie’s mom is allergic, so no dogs are allowed at home.
Frankie meets Platinum again in a park. They get knocked out and wake up in the Omniversal Doghouse in front of a pantheon (or Pawtheon) of Dog Gods who want them to be the next Dog Knight! Unbeknownst to humans, the Pawtheon has watched over, protected, and warned humans against the evil chaos gremlins since time immemorial, and the Dog Knight is the human who vows to protect, serve, and help dogs “wherever humans need them.” The Pawtheon is headed by the Omnidog, who tells Frankie “We are the most Good Boy.”
This is a book any dog lover will love. Dogs who are gods, magical pacts, helmets that allow you to talk to dogs, swords, bullies who are shown the errors of their ways, and the value of friendship triumphing over the awkwardness of middle school – what’s not to love? The writing is snappy and funny and knows dogs and dog behavior – there are many very funny parts I giggled at. (“Oh, sorry…I got caught up in the scritchins.”) The dog expressions are depicted thoughtfully. My favorite dog god was the Yorkshire Terror, who chases away robbers, gremlins, shadows, and people who are up to no good. He also has the best B-grade superhero lines, like “You can’t run from the paws of justice!”
Frankie will be tested several times by the Pawtheon, not unlike the tests of faith Percival underwent in his quest for the Grail in Le Morte d’Arthur. Will they pass? How will they handle the frenemy Dallas? Will they find a perfect outfit for the band recital?
This book is so empathetic. On page 122, when Frankie is trying to reach out to Dallas, they observe “How sad it must be to be so popular and still have no one you can trust.” I wish I had had such wisdom then. The book provides a window into the Big Hard Feelings and Changes that middle schoolers are trying to deal with and portrays how they, too, can get through them. Sometimes it’s messy, but they can.
The comic has a content warning inside the front cover that there is bullying, misgendering and displays of transphobia. Also portrayed are test anxiety, anticipation anxiety, difficult conversations, and lots of face licks and good belly scritches! The book is appropriate for middle school libraries and public libraries and represents a minority in a humane way. Librarians should be aware that there are some heart-warming depictions of trans people. This book is a stand-alone and is not part of a series.
The Dog Knight
By Jeremy Whitley
Art by Bre Indigo, Melissa Capriglione, ,
Feiwel and Friends, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)