Fourteen-year-old Angie and her mum are on the brink of homelessness... again. The problem is her little sister, Sophie. Sophie has a form of autism, and a tendency to shriek. Home never seems to last long.
Until they move in with Aunt Vi, across the fence from a huge Great Dane. Sophie falls in love, and begins to imitate the dog’s calm nature. The shrieking stops. Everyone relaxes. Until Paul, the dog's grumpy, socially isolated owner, moves away.
Much to Angie's humiliation, her mum thinks they can follow Paul and his dog. Once reunited, despite a huge age gap, Angie and Paul form the closest friendship either has known. But Angie risks everything to help Paul's dream come true, even their friendship and her one chance at a real home – the only thing she's dreamed of since her father was killed. A place she won’t be thrown out of. A place she can feel she belongs.
When I received an unexpected review copy of Catherine Ryan Hyde's latest release, 'Where We Belong', I have to be honest I wasn't completely sure whether this would be a novel for me. I'm not a big fan of animals and the blurb gave me the impression this book would largely focus on the relationship between a girl and a dog. However, Catherine Ryan Hyde is an author who has written numerous novels, including the heart-breaking 'Pay It Forward' (I saw the film version several years ago and it made me cry and cry and cry), and I have been wanting to check out her books for quite some time now. So, I was glad with the opportunity to read and review 'Where We Belong' and I hoped I would be pleasantly surprised!
Angie is a fourteen-year-old girl who lives together with her mum and her younger sister Sophie, who has a specific form of autism. Angie's mum is not the typical mothering type, and the three of them often find themselves without a home or a place to go to. When they move in with their Aunt Vi, something unexpected happens when Sophie develops a friendship with Rigby, the dog of Paul, the isolated and slightly grumpy neighbour. Somehow the dog makes her calm and happy, and Angie secretly hopes this will be the start of a new life for them. But then Paul decides to move away to the mountains for personal reasons, and Angie realises their life will go back to the way it was. However, Angie's mum is not ready to give up so easily and decides to follow Paul and Rigby, so Sophie can continue to be with the dog. Angie develops a close friendship with Paul, but will this time everything work out the way she wants, for both herself and her family, even when she decides to risk everything?
Wow, this book really managed to exceed all my expectations and ended up to be a really captivating read. The novel includes a cast of fascinating and all different characters, such as teenager Angie who is trying to find her place in the world, her little sister Sophie who has autism and develops a simply wonderful relationship with Rigby the dog, and Paul, the neighbour who doesn't want to let anyone into his life but doesn't have a choice but to let both Sophie and Angie in. I quickly warmed to Angie, the main protagonist of the story; she's really grown-up for a 14-year-old and the role reversal between her and her mother was interesting to read, but heart-breaking at the same time. I especially loved seeing how a friendship developed between Angie and Paul and how important a feeling of belonging is to Angie.
Next to the great character development, the story is written in a comfortable pace. I now understand why many reviewers are so enthusiastic about Catherine Ryan Hyde's writing style, because she really has her own distinctive voice, her own captivating way of telling a story. I just wanted to keep on reading without breaks in between because I was really curious to see where the story would go and how things would eventually end. I already look forward to reading more of Catherine Ryan Hyde's work and definitely recommend this novel to any women's fiction fans out there. 'Where We Belong' is a novel about family, friendship and discovering yourself; touching, well-written and hopeful.