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I didn’t want to read another dog book. The last one I’d read – the phenomenal, but devastatingly heartbreaking Marley and Me – had done me in. No more dogs. They were just good for a long, unavoidable afternoon cry.

But there were so many reviews singing the praises of Art of Racing in the Rain and there were whispers of a movie coming soon and, doggone it, it was the only book on my TBR that was available as an ebook from the library. So I checked it out. But I was not reading it.

You know how that worked out, don’t you? I tried it. I tippy-toed in so carefully, ready to slam the cover shut at the first hint of getting too attached. Of course, it helps that the book starts out with an aging Enzo (the dog), trying to think of how to break it to his master that he’s ready to die – so he can be reincarnated as a human, of course. I mean, really, what else would happen to him?! I was okay with this. I liked that the book ended with the beginning. There were bits both sad – oh, great; another dead dog – and happy in that his human Denny and his daughter Zoe were there with him. This was important to a big meaty middle of the book. Sometimes I like to know that everything’s going to be okay.

Don’t get all alarmed – I’m not spoiling you. The book itself tells you all of that on the first page! There are plenty of ups and downs to read about, which you will, with plenty of philosophizing from Enzo.

That’s what this book is really about: the birth of a family, the growth of that family, and the dark and twisties that family has to go through to get back to that snippet we saw at the beginning of the book. It’s not a book about dogs. Sure, there’s Enzo – he’s the narrator. We share the joy that swims, floats, leaps off the page when Enzo and Denny interact. It was enough to make me want to go get myself a dog, especially it was one who thought in humanthink and lamented, more than anything, that he didn’t have opposable thumbs. Enzo’s gorgeous detached-yet-involved narration of the goings on of his family was such a stunning and effective tool by Mr. Stein. This book wouldn’t have been a tenth of what it was if he had pursued any other avenue. It wasn’t gimmicky, it wasn’t maudlin or saccharine or anything other than wise, even-tempered, and a good portion of the time downright hilarious. Enzo’s a dog I could hang with, especially with Stein as my translator.

Yes, you will still cry. Even if you slam the book shut before the ending you know is coming (what?! stop judging!), you will still cry. Enzo makes you care about his people. He makes even a NASCAR-hatin’ Yankee like me care about racing in the rain and long for the vicarious thrills therein. But you need to read this book anyway. Everyone who doesn’t is walking around with an Enzo-shaped hole in them and I just can’t abide that.

Read this. Really. It’s not a book about a dog. It’s a book about wisdom. About confidence. About perseverance and dreams. About not abandoning our family. About dreams. And the best in us all. Mr. Stein’s story will move you, even if you walk in refusing to give an inch. Very beautifully done, sir. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

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