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Rada Jones
Becoming K-9
Rada Jones, author

"Until you, hoomans, learn to sniff each other's butts so you can read each other's thoughts, you'll need us, dogs, to guide you, love you, and make you better people." Corporal K-9 Guinness Van Jones.
If you thought being a K-9 is easy, think again. What's the hardest, you ask? Sniffing bombs? No sir. That's easy once you know what to look for. Apprehending perpetrators? Nope. That's fun. The hardest part of being a K-9 is training people. Humans don't know how to communicate. It's not their fault that they have blunt teeth, fixed ears, and no tail. As for their nose, they can't tell goose guano from duck poop and can't even read each other's thoughts. That's why they need dogs. To guide them, take care of them, and set them right. Becoming K-9 is the story of how I grew from a feisty pup into a fierce K-9. How I looked after my humans, helped them focus on the half-full bowl of kibble, and taught them unconditional love. Because, whether you're young or old, rich or poor, dog or human, there's nothing more potent than love. Not even death. Love is the only thing we get to take with us when we die.

Jones (Poison) tells the story of a German Shepherd named Guinness from the dog’s point of view, starting with her puppy years and extending through her career as a bomb-sniffing dog. The result is a fully realized, well-researched portrait of a working dog as well as a gritty account of life in war-torn Afghanistan. While Jones doesn't flinch in depicting death and tragedy, she also never loses her sense of humor, especially when bringing to life how strange dogs find human behavior.

Guinness is a proud and willful dog who joins the military because she wasn't cut out for a life of leisure. She helps her first owner, Shorty, rescue a little girl from a kidnapper in a harrowing scene that may be difficult to read for younger audiences. Guinness becomes an expert bomb sniffer under the tutelage of a soldier named Silver, helping her get over the death of another dog, but when Silver dies in combat, Guinness develops PTSD and is taken out of service—only to be adopted later by a loving criminal named Tony. Along the way, Guinness makes friends with other dogs and finally winds up with a grizzled ER nurse, always maintaining her pride and dignity.

Jones’s story is surprisingly visceral, with frank and even graphic violence, and its mature handling of subjects like mental illness may be challenging for some readers. As a result, it's best suited for a slightly older YA audience, but the no-nonsense treatment of intense subjects shows how Jones has no desire to talk down to her audience. Her attention to detail grounds the more fantastic elements of the book—like the dialogue between dogs and their owners—and gives a powerful voice to the animals’ perspectives. Jones's essential message is that you can't fool a dog, and she encourages readers to take an honest look at their unique view of the world.

Takeaway: Young adult readers interested in dog training from the canine's point of view will chuckle along—and feel depths of sadness and loss.

Great for fans of: Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Kirkus Reviews

Excitement, tears, and many chuckles in a winning story about a courageous K-9

Guinness is an irresistible lead character—smart and steadfast but also soulful and delightfully snarky. While the narrative offers adventure and some tragedy throughout, it also delivers humor and great tenderness. The scenes in Afghanistan, where Guinness is eventually deployed, are portrayed with a visceral grittiness. Readers can practically taste the ever present dust permeating the barren landscape. This is Jones’ first volume in her K-9 Heroes series, and it is a lovely tribute to the brave canine officers in the military.