4 out of 4 stars
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Shellbee’s Story by Jennifer Flynn-Campbell, PhD is a collection of letters written by Shellbee Ann Campbell, a black Labrador. In her collection of letters, Shellbee recalls many fond memories of her life. From the day she was brought home by her human litter-mates, to puppy school, meeting human and canine friends, going on adventures to various vacations with her mommy and pappy, and undergoing some medical procedures, Shellbee tells all with her candid and optimistic voice.
The author masterfully captures the essence of a canine narrator. From the very first page, I never questioned that Shellbee herself was narrating this story. Shellbee's simplistic, yet complex thoughts and feeling-driven actions give the reader the impression that the narrative is told through the eyes of a dog. I was captivated by Shellbee’s optimistic and bubbly tone; in fact, many times Shellbee reminded me of my very own dog, Luna. I loved how the author was able to successfully convey Shellbee’s narration; I couldn’t stop smiling while I read Shellbee’s words.
In addition to Shellbee’s authentic voice, the book personifies Shellbee to a degree that is realistic without being overdone. Shellbee’s sometimes scatterbrained narrative, canine attitude and basic understanding of her ‘human litter-mates’ all reminded me of my life with my own dog. There were so many ‘aha!’ moments in this story where I knew exactly what Shellbee was experiencing because I’d had the same emotional experience with my canine companion. The realism of Shellbee's story created a touching tone throughout the narrative. Anyone who has ever lived with a dog, or had a true connection with one, will easily relate to Shellbee’s experiences and smile at her recollection of various events.
Told through a series of letters written by Shellbee herself, there’s no defined storyline throughout the book. Each letter focuses on different experiences or aspects of Shellbee’s life, covering her life from the time she was brought home as a puppy, but not necessarily in chronological order. Unfortunately, this format was the book’s only downfall. Although Shellbee’s voice is strong and resonates throughout each and every word of every letter, there was nothing that made me want to keep reading after I’d finished one of her letters. Some letters stood out far more than others, like Shellbee’s descriptions of her job as a therapy dog, while others felt mundane at times and repetitive in some cases. This book may have been more successful if it was written in the style of a continuous story, much like The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Similar to Shellbee’s Story, Stein captured the essence of a canine narrator; however, Stein was much more successful at conveying his narrator’s life in a story-like narrative instead of via seemingly random snippets.
For anyone who has ever fallen in love with a dog, this book will touch your heart and remind you of many of your fondest experiences with your canine friend. I had a difficult time rating this book; I considered a 3 star rating at first because of the format of the book and the overall lack of anticipation from one letter to the next. However, there were many aspects I could relate to within Shellbee’s narrative, and Shellbee herself was a wonderful narrator. Further, this book evoked a lot of emotion in me, and I have to give the author credit for writing such a moving story, despite my negative critiques. Thus, I give Shellbee’s Story 4 out of 4 stars. Dog lovers who are interested in reading from the perspective of a canine companion will adore Shellbee’s storytelling and get a lot of joy from reading this book.
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