Saturday, December 14, 2019

MMGM: Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

I loved reading Terry Lynn Johnson's earlier book Ice Dogs, so I was pretty excited to get a copy of Dog Driven to read. And I wasn't disappointed, in fact, I couldn't put it down.

McKenna Barney, 14, knows there is something wrong with her eyesight, but she's worked hard to hid it from everyone, even at the cost of dropping out of favorite activities and alienating her best friend. But McKenna still has some sight, especially peripheral vision, though she knows she will have to give up her beloved dog sledding at some point. However, after seeing how overprotective her mother is with her young sister Emma, 8, doing everything for her and not allowing her to gain any independence, McKenna isn't ready to lose her freedom, too.

For now, though, there's one more race and Emma, who has been dealing with Stargardt disease, which is juvenile macular degeneration, for most of her short life, manages to talk McKenna into entering. The Great Superior Mail Race is important to Emma, because the mushers will follow the route of the long ago Canadian mail couriers, delivering mail that will be stamped Delivered by Dog Team on them and it is open to mushers age 14 and up. Emma's plan is to write a letter to the Foundation for Fighting Blindness, asking for more research to be done on Stargardt disease. And she figures, if sister McKenna wins the race, surely her letter will be read aloud on TV. But when Emma figures out that McKenna also has Stargardt's, the sisters make a deal - if McKenna doesn't deliver Emma's letter, they will tell their parents about her loss of vision.

McKenna is an experienced musher and knows her dogs well, but even so, it is a dangerous race through the Canadian wilderness. Luckily, she meets two other young mushers who help her along the way. Harper doesn't like sled dog racing but her father wanted her to do this race, convinced it would change her mind about it. There have been mushers in her family for generations, the family is well off and her dogs are top notch. Guy, pronounced Gee, also comes from a long line of dog sledders, but now his mother has passed away, and his father wants to give up the dogs to save money as his delivery service flounders. Guy is hoping to win the race and perhaps get his father's a contract with Amazon, which would mean keeping the dogs to make deliveries with.

McKenna, Harper, and Guy are the only teens in the race, and I guess I was a little surprised they didn't know each other already, but that aside, they did develop a nice friendship, often helping each other when needed. But it is still a race they all have a reason to want to win and McKenna's eye condition is becoming more obvious. Will either new friend take advantage of McKenna's condition to win.

Dog Driven is, to say the least, an action packed nail-biter. The story is narrated by McKenna so the reader knows exactly what is going on in her head as she struggles with the fact of losing her sight. At the same time, the reader also sees everything happening through her eyes, which realistically includes the difficulty she has seeing most of the time. Loss of vision under normal circumstances is difficult, but under the circumstances of dog sledding in the Canadian wilderness is downright perilous. But McKenna has a wonderful relationship with her dogs, and knows and trusts them to do what a good sled dog would.

I really liked McKenna's and her sister's relationship,  too, and I could completely understand why McKenna didn't want her parents to know about her deteriorating eyesight. She sees how her mother does everything for her sister, and won't let her develop the skills she needs to be more independent.

The race is a competition and McKenna, Guy, and Harper each have their own personal reasons for entering it, but it was nice to see how they were still able to become friends and even help each other out when needed. And the details of what the weather and terrain conditions are like for a race like this are amazingly real, probably because Johnson was at one time a dog sledder herself. I have to admit, the idea of being out on part of a frozen Lake Superior is not my idea of fun, but it certainly made for exciting reading. There is a map at the beginning of the book that shows the route the mushers took, so that you can see exactly where McKenna throughout the race. I found myself referring to it frequently

One other thing: throughout the story are letters that take the reader back to when the mail was being delivered by dog sled only, as well as some modern letters the racers are carrying for the competition. I could have enjoyed this book thoroughly without them, but they are at least brief.

Dog Driven is a book that completely took me out of my life as a NYC girl, and put me into a totally different world. It was a wonderful experience, and I can't recommend reading it highly enough.

You can find out more about Stargardt Disease HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was a ARC gratefully received from Blue Slip Media

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at 
Always in the Middle. 


  1. This sounds like a great book! Your recommendation is the third one I've seen in two weeks, so this book must be good! Thanks so much for the review!

  2. Thank you so much for this review of Dog Driven! I've read Terry Lynn Johnston before and enjoyed her, but had just a little trouble connecting with the characters and world. I think this one would be more my speed, and am excited to pick it up!

  3. I can't wait to read Terry Lynn Johnson's new book. I've read and reviewed almost everything she's written. This one sounds especially good. Love the themes of not giving up and a focus on abilities. Great review!

  4. Great review! I'm with you - I'm not sure being out on a frozen Lake Superior is my thing too, maybe that's because I'm not used to that type of weather and so the thought of it seems a bit foreign to me, but I've also seen enough movies where ice cracks unexpectedly giving way to immediate danger (like George's brother in It's a Wonderful Life).

  5. I have this on my reading list. I've read other books by this author and enjoyed them. I think I will really like this one as well. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. I couldn't agree more. Such a great story and one that works well as a read aloud. Thanks for featuring on this week's MMGM.

  7. This sounds like a good read. I'll have to check it out. I don't think I've read anything else by this author.


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