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Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam

Review

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam

War dogs used in Vietnam were unsung heroes. Faced with intense training combined with dreadful working conditions and constant danger, they had few rewards and were often left behind to survive on their own. This incredible book, although fictional, is based on real accounts provided through interviews of Vietnam War dog handlers.

Cracker, an amazingly intelligent German Shepherd, knows more than 90 words and lives the life of royalty that she deserves. It is her birthright. She has lived with (and slept with) Willie since she was about six months old, but before she is two, her life changes traumatically. Willie's father has been laid off, and the family needs to move to an apartment --- one that doesn't allow dogs. There are few options, and, according to the shelter, Cracker probably will be put down. Unable to locate a new family or home, they come across an advertisement from the military: Uncle Sam is looking for a few good dogs. Cracker is to enlist and join the army.

Cracker mourns for Willie, certain that his young master will rescue her as she is shipped to unfriendly locations, kenneled with lots of other dogs and then given to some strange man. Cracker is paired up with Rick Hanski --- who volunteered for duty in Vietnam at the young age of 17 --- to train for locating bombs, traps and the enemy. The lives of Cracker and Rick, along with those of thousands of soldiers, will depend on the success of their training and how well they are able to work together. 

Author Cynthia Kadohata carefully crafts her narrative with two alternating voices --- Rick's and Cracker's --- as she describes their bond, fears, concerns and conditions. Rick is warned that he is never to take his eyes off his dog in the field, and Cracker must learn to separate a variety of alien smells in order to determine real threats. They do not work in complete isolation; instead, they develop close relationships with several other handlers and their dogs. But it is the unique bond shared between Rick and Cracker that rises above all else. Their attachment forms from complete respect, admiration, love and trust in each other.

Cracker earns the respect of all who meet her, as she truly becomes a hero and "The Best Dog in Vietnam." Due to the subject matter, CRACKER! is an incredibly intense and emotionally challenging book. Those who share a close relationship with a dog or two will struggle at times, but will admire and applaud the spirit and intelligence of this amazing animal. I live with two gifted and affectionate Labradors (also used as war dogs) and found myself snuggling a little more closely with them while reading. My apologies to Kadohata, but shortly after beginning the book, I absolutely had to flip to the last page before resuming the story.

In December 2005 I read John Grogan's MARLEY & ME, never putting it down once started. And in February 2007 the same thing happened with CRACKER! I applaud the spirits of both dogs and the skill with which the authors have depicted them.

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Reviewed by Patsy Side on October 18, 2011

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam
by Cynthia Kadohata

  • Publication Date: February 6, 2007
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416906371
  • ISBN-13: 9781416906377