No More Dead Dogs

From the Book:

When my dad was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he once rescued eight Navy SEALs who were stranded behind enemy lines. He flew back using only his left hand, because the right one had taken a bullet. With the chopper on fire, and running on an empty tank and just gas fumes, he managed to outmaneuver a squadron of Mig fighters and make it safely home to base. That was my favorite story when I was small. It was also a total pack of lies. The bullet scar on Dad's arm was really the scar from a big infected pimple. And by the time I was old enough to do the math, I realized that when the war ended in Vietnam, my father was fourteen.
I guess I was pretty clueless, like little kids can be. I thought my parents had a great relationship. The only thing they ever fought about was lying. And even then the arguments were short: Mom wanted the truth, and Dad wouldn't recognize it if it danced up and bit him on the nose.
But even though I didn't really understand what was going on, I guess it percolated down to me somehow. The more Dad lied, the more I told the truth.
My earliest memory is my mother complaining that the laundry had shrunk her new pants.
"Your pants didn't get smaller, Mommy," I assured her. "Your butt got bigger."
Little kids get away with that kind of stuff, so she laughed it off.
But she wasn't laughing three years later when the next-door neighbor asked my opinion of her light and fluffy cake.
I thought it over. "It tastes like vacuum cleaner fuzz. And the icing reminds me of antifreeze."
"Wally, how could you say such a thing?" my mother wailed when we got home.
"Mom," I asked, "did Dad really miss my birthday party because he had to visit a sick friend?"
It didn't matter that she didn't answer. I had already seen the hotel bill on my father's night table. The Desert Inn, Las Vegas.
I was more stuck on the truth than ever. For me, honesty wasn't just the best policy; it was the only one.
I told my soon-to-be ex-piano teacher that her fingernails reminded me of velociraptor claws. The cook at summer camp I informed that his pork chop could double as a bulletproof vest. My cousin Melinda's clarinet playing I described as "somebody strangling a duck."
"Must you be so -- you know -- colorful?" my mother moaned.
"When it's the truth," I said firmly.
"But the Abernathys are so proud of their new house! Did you have to announce that it's built on a slant?"
"It is! I dropped my yo-yo, and it rolled all the way to the kitchen."
"Wally," she pleaded, "how can I make you understand --"
I used to wonder if things would have been different if I'd had the guts to tell my dad that he didn't have to be a war hero or an astronaut or a CIA agent. It was enough for me that he was my dad.
I almost did it once. I was so close! But before I could get my mouth open, he said, "Wally, have I ever told you about the time I led a crew that put out oil well fires?"
Oil well fires.
So I gave up, and, eventually, so did Mom. I was in fifth grade when they got their divorce. By then, I wouldn't have told a lie at gunpoint.
That's why I never once complained about the black eye I got for telling Buzz Bolitsky he had the IQ of a Ring Ding. You won't see me crying over the fact that I haven't received a birthday present from Uncle Ted for two years. The fact is, Uncle Ted's toupee really did look like a small animal had crawled up onto his head and died there. If he didn't want the truth, he shouldn't have said those fateful words: "Do you notice anything different about me?"
So when Mr. Fogelman had us write book reviews in eighth-grade English, I wasn't trying to be rude or disrespectful or even smart alecky. I gave Fogelman what I give everybody -- the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth:

Old Shep, My Pal by Zack Paris is the most boring book I've read in my entire life. I did not have a favorite character. I hated everybody equally. The most interesting part came on the last page where it said "The End." This book couldn't be any lousier if it came with a letter bomb. I would not recommend it to my worst enemy.

Mr. Fogelman scanned the few lines, and glared at me, face flaming in anger. "This isn't what I assigned!"
I should say that I had nothing against Mr. Fogelman at that moment. He was okay -- the kind of young teacher who tries to be "one of the guys," but everything he does only shows how out of it he is. I just wanted to set the record straight.
"Yes, it is," I told him. "The assignment sheet said to give our honest opinion, write what was our favorite part and character, and make a recommendation. It's all there."
Old Shep, My Pal is a timeless classic!" roared the teacher. "It won the Gunhold Award! It was my favorite book growing up. Everybody loves it." He turned to the rest of the class. "Right?"
The reaction was a murmur of mixed reviews.
"It was okay, I guess."
"Not too bad."
"Why did it have to be so sad?"
"Exactly!" Fogelman pounced on the comment. "It was sad. What a heartbreaking surprise ending!"
"I wasn't surprised," I said. "I knew Old Shep was going to die before I started page one."
"Don't be ridiculous," the teacher snapped. "How?"
I shrugged. "Because the dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down."
"Not true!" stormed Mr. Fogelman.
"Well," I challenged, "what happened to
Old Yeller?"
"Oh, all right," the teacher admitted. "So
Old Yeller died."
"What about
Sounder?" piped up Joey Quick.
Bristle Face," added Mike "Feather" Wrigley, one of my football teammates.
"Don't forget
Where the Red Fern Grows," I put in. "The double whammy -- two dogs die in that one."
"You've made your point," growled Mr. Fogelman. "And now I'm going to make mine. I expect a proper review. And you're going to give it to me -- during detention!"

Copyright © 2000 Gordon Korman, used with permission

Wallace Wallace has a problem -- no, not his name, that's kind of cool -- he's thought of as the star player on the football team, but his English teacher won't let him play because the teacher disagrees with his opinion on an assigned reading project.

Instead of making passes and running touchdowns, Wallace finds himself stuck in the gym after school each day, on detention, while the drama department puts on a theatrical version of Old Shep, My Pal. The teacher's plan? Force Old Shep on him until he breaks down and does a positive review.

But things seldom run as planned in a good story, and the instructor soon finds Wallace turning his play upside down. Meanwhile, the football team is loosing big-time and they blame Wallace for not being there. And somebody is sabotaging the production, but nobody seems to know for sure if it's Wallace, one of the football players, or somebody else entirely.

Needless to say, things get pretty hectic … but one way or another, the drama club is putting on a play!