My Review of The Leanin' Dog by K. A. Nuzum
Submitted by Karen Haney, August, 2008
K. A. Nuzum's new book, The Leanin' Dog, tells a first person narrative story about a young girl named Dessa Dean who is eleven years old. The story takes place during the winter in Colorado in the 1930s just before Christmas. Dessa is a lonely child who desperately needs a friend, especially since her mother died. She thinks she will never be happy again. Dessa is trapped. She is a victim of her own mind's fear, the fear of leaving her home, known as agoraphobia. To make it harder, Dessa doesn't want her father to know about this fear. He has enough to deal with.
While Father tries to keep things at home going by keeping the wood pile for the stove for food and warmth, he also tries to help Dessa with her school work. Along with that, he tries really hard to kill some animal for their dinner so that Christmas can be special. As father struggles with these things, Dessa still tries to stop what she calls the daymares and tries to keep Father from finding out about them. When Dessa's ears starts to ache, she knows a period of "losing Mama pain" is beginning. Her ears hurt as her memory takes her back to when her mother died and Dessa's ears had been frostbitten. She was holding her mother in the snow waiting for someone to find them even though their footprints were blotted away by the snowstorm. That horrible time when her mother died in her arms is something Dessa can't forget and therefore, she continues to have these nightmares (daymares) and can't force herself outside the house.
What helps Dessa to deal with the pain and tragedy in her life comes in the form of a canine friend. A stray dog comes into Dessa's life and gives her someone to love again. The dog is just what she needs--a friend. Here is someone to tell her troubles to and share her secrets with as well as her heart. Dessa finds in the dog a friend who can help her deal with her paralyzing fear of leaving the house. Oddly enough, the dog has a fear as well. He doesn't like to be closed up in small places. When she finally coaxes him into the house and goes to close the door, he is upset and she realizes she must leave the door partly open as this dog also has a fear of something-a fear of being in small, enclosed spaces known as claustrophobia. In order to ease his fear, the open door adds to Dessa's problems as it causes the piled up wood to burn quicker and invites marauders to the home.
Slowly, with each friend allowing for the other's fear to be gently guarded, Dessa begins to find the happiness she has lost and this helps her with her father as well. Together, the three of them help each other to get through the tragedy of losing Dessa's mother and the joy of the holiday season.