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Hubcaps and Puppies

by Rosemary Nelson

When her dog dies, Nikki, the 13-year-old narrator of this first-person novel, feels she’ll never want another. Her mother, however, while shopping for used hubcaps, finds a miserable puppy and brings him home as a surprise for Nikki’s birthday. At first the pup is no success, but he soon wins Nikki over. However, Nikki has to establish another new, more difficult relationship that summer, with her own grandmother, who arrives unexpectedly from Australia.

Tousled, blunt, and dressed in thrift store jeans, Nikki’s grandmother creates a lot of tension in the family with her principled, conservationist lifestyle and scorn for what she views as their consumerism. Gradually, however, Nikki comes to understand and appreciate her grandma’s perspective, learning along the way how to build a chicken coop, hem pants, and stand up for what she believes in. The crisis of the novel comes when a nearby pond, with its wild ducks and turtles, is threatened by encroaching development.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, Rosemary Nelson conveys in her writing the pleasure of being outdoors with animals, cantering through the woods on a horse, brushing the dog, watching turtles sun themselves on a log. It’s a life many girls would find idyllic. Nelson tackles a number of subjects in this, her fourth, novel: family relationships and intergenerational conflict, environmental activism, school problems, and dog training. The resolutions to the problems sometimes seem too easy, but they do remain credible, and Nelson finds a moving and satisfying conclusion to the novel.