"The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.” - Oleg Georgivitch Gazenko, 1998

I remember sitting on the top bunk of my bedroom when I was eight or nine years old, struggling to catch my breath as I learned the fate of the two dogs in Where the Red Fern Grows. I remember throwing Old Yeller on the floor and gently picking it back up moments later to finish the final words through blurred vision. I recently finished Plague Dogs and sat contemplating the ended for several minutes before going about my day.

I used to think that tragic animal stories were good because, well, dogs. How can these goofy, loyal balls of fluff not pull on your heart strings?

But "Laika" by Nick Abadzis made me question why I keep coming back to these types of stories, and I think I found an answer: They reveal more about the nature of Man than they do about the nature of Man's best friend.

Rather than just making me love and appreciate dogs' roles in our lives, this book made me reflect on humanity and its role in nature and progress. I felt hatred and understanding; I reacted logically and emotionally. I felt connected with Laika but what was harder to accept was my connecting with the people.

I avoid meat but sometimes order shrimp scampi. I donate to animal shelters but don't always check for the cruelty-free sticker when I buy foundation and mascara. I avoid thinking about animals in basement labs but am grateful for the advances of science. In short, I'm human, a synonym of hypocrite, who bawled over Laika's fate and returned to life moments later.

Unlike the dogs in the titles mentioned above, Laika was real. Abadzis presents her story in a graphic novel format, a medium I'm only just started to explore. The art was just as subtly moving as the words, painted in blue hues and focused views. The dialog was clipped but packed with an emotional punch.

This is the kind of book that deserves all praise, but that I never want to read again.


Rating: 5 Stars

Similar Titles: See above. Please consider getting your next read from an independent bookstore or your local library.