Warning: Don’t read this book unless you are prepared for all the feels. I don’t even consider myself a ‘dog’ person and I wept several times through this.
A dog is born. He lives. He dies. He is reborn. Again. And again. Along the way he learns what his true purpose is.
The dog goes by several names in this book, but he spends the longest as Bailey, so we’ll call him Bailey. First he’s a feral puppy who winds up in an illegal shelter. Then he’s a golden retriever and bonds instantly with ‘his boy’, Ethan, who’s about eight at the time and goes through a whole bunch of adventures with Bailey. Then he’s a German Shepherd rescue bitch called Ellie, who works hard and learns to find and save people. Then he’s a black Labrador, and everything he’s learned in his previous lives leads him back to Ethan, now an old man. Stop crying. I did warn you.
Bailey/Toby/Ellie/Buddy is our star, the dog who lives four lives and finds meaning and purpose in all of them. Ethan is Bailey’s first real owner, whose love and affection shines through the pages of the book. If there ever was a man/dog BFF ship, it’s those two. Through Bailey’s eyes and limited understanding of the world (and also his ability to interpret everything to be about him, of course) we see Ethan’s parents divorce, find out a neighbourhood bully killed a neighbourhood dog, see couples get married and start families all without Bailey explicitly telling us so.
Reborn as Ellie, she has two owners in her time – a depressed widowed police officer who is wounded on the job and a female cop who wants the challenge of working with Ellie but might not be up to it. And Ellie’s an amazing recue dog. I cried when she jumped into a storm drain to rescue a lost kid because I thought yeah, she’s learned her purpose, she’s gonna die now. And then finally as Buddy, Bailey finds his way back to Ethan and puts everything he’s learned in his life to use to make ‘his boy’ happy.
I couldn’t get over how fantastic the dog’s voice was. Narration by a dog! Not entirely original, no, but the voice and style really blew me away. Of course cats are useless, Bailey. Of course when your owners get married everyone’s really there to watch you walk down the aisle with the rings. You’re the star, the centre of their world. Of course you are, you ridiculous doodle dog. I couldn’t get over the narrative voice. Also, Josh Gad is voicing Bailey in the film. JOSH GAD. You know he’s going to be AMAZING.
Some choice quotes:
“Dogs have important jobs, like barking when the doorbell rings, but cats have no function in a house whatsoever."
“Humans were capable of so many amazing things, but too often they just sat making words, not doing anything.”
“This was, I decided, my purpose as a dog, to comfort the boy whenever he needed me.”
It was easy to tell when the dog’s life was winding up and at the end of each death I had to put the book down and have a big, chest-heaving, sobbing, ugly cry. Apart from that the pace was good – often in the early times of Bailey’s life, when he was still a puppy and before he had met his new owners, the pace would drop a bit because of the limited interactions, but apart from that, I found the pace easy going, not breakneck or anything, just a pleasant journey with an old friend.
Oh my god just read this book.