Anastasia, Absolutely by Lois Lowry

I like the way that Lois Lowry’s middle-grade books about Anastasia Krupnik (who is in eighth grade in this final book in the series) keep the reader’s interest by combining multiple plot threads. In this one: 1) Anastasia has just gotten a dog 2) she’s taking a Values class at school 3) her dad has jury duty and 4) she makes a mistake that she’s worried might have actually been a crime. With the Values class, we see her answers to homework questions like what she would do if she saw a stranger shoplifting, or what she would do if she saw a close friend shoplifting; she and her three best friends also have spirited discussions about their very different responses to those questions. Anastasia worries that she is too “wishy-washy”—and in fact, that maybe her whole family is. (Her dad’s jury duty story involves how conflicted he felt, after hearing first from the prosecution and then from the defense.) But as her teacher points out, she’s actually “good at examining things, and seeing all the different options,” which she should see as a strength rather than a liability. Meanwhile: on her very first early morning walk with her new dog, she accidentally puts a bag of dog poop in a mailbox, rather than the package she meant to mail for her mom. She goes back later that day to see if she can somehow retrieve it, but the mailbox has been removed entirely, which she’s sure is because of her “crime.” As she wrestles with her feelings of guilt and whether/how to confess, she realizes she’s facing a real-life Values dilemma rather than a hypothetical one.

This isn’t my favorite of the Anastasia books, but it was nice to re-read it, though there are a few moments that feel very dated, like when Anastasia’s friend Daphne talks about reading about “transvestism” in the library, and when Anastasia’s teacher says “I hate to see a pretty girl like you looking so sad all the time” and it’s presented in the narrative as just a nice/concerned statement, rather than being in any way problematic.

But I love Anastasia’s dog, Sleuth, who is described/drawn as looking very much like the dog that appears with Lowry in her author photo. I love passages like this: “The dog, finally, after raising his head at each mention of his name, got up and came over to the table. He sniffed each person’s knees as if maybe they had turned edible overnight. Disappointed by the smell of denim, he yawned, went back to his corner, and resumed his disguise as a mop.” Or this: “he pranced by her side and surveyed the neighborhood to be sure it hadn’t undergone any changes in the night.” And I love how Anastasia’s mom tries to use Sleuth as a model for the illustrations she’s working on for a children’s book about a dog, but gets frustrated due to his shagginess, and finally decides she needs to get his hair out of his eyes with plastic barrettes—which Anastasia and her kid brother Sam both find extremely undignified.






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