Cover image for Straydog
Koja, Kathe.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
Physical Description:
105 pages ; 22 cm
Rachel, a teenager with a healthy dose of both aptitude and attitude, begins to feel at home volunteering at an animal shelter.
Reading Level:
970 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.2 4.0 57219.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.5 8 Quiz: 33214 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A powerful debut novel
"A female collie mix, so beautiful, all gold and white and dirty; she's in the last cage on the aisle, curled up quiet, watching everything - but when I get too close she goes completely crazy, biting at the bars, herself, anything in reach, until I back off and away. Her growl's like ripping metal, jagged, dangerous, and strong . . . Don't mess with me, that growl says. I may be in a cage but I can still bite."
Rachel is happiest when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after she meets the feral collie she names Grrl: they're both angry and alone. When a teacher encourages her to write about the dog, Rachel finds another outlet for her pain and frustration. Writing about Grrl is easy. But teaching Grrl to trust her is a much tougher task. And when Griffin, the new boy in school, devises a plan to bring Grrl home, Rachel finds that the dog isn't the only one who must learn to trust.
Kathe Koja offers a raw and emotional tale about a girl who risks breaking out of her own cage to find the help she needs.

Author Notes

Kathe Koja was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1960. Her first novel, The Cipher, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 1992 and the Locus Award. She also won a Deathrealm Award for Strange Angels. Her other adult novels include Bad Brains, Skin, Kink, and Under the Poppy. She also writes young adult novels including Straydog, Buddha Boy, The Blue Mirror, and Going Under.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. Smart, angry, and alone, Rachel doesn't fit in with the «TV girls,» «net jockeys,» or other groups at her high school. She feels best when she's writing and when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after a feral collie appears, who she names Grrl. Rachel loves the dog's fierce wildness, and she begins to find her own voice in a raw, edgy story-within-a-story she writes from Grrl's perspective. A new classmate, Griffin, sees Rachel's rage, solitude, and talent--«her real self»--and the friendship developing between them helps Rachel learn to trust, forgive, and let Grrl go. Koja, the author of several adult novels, writes a searing, beautiful book for young readers. Rachel's epiphany about Grrl may be too neat and self-aware, and a few peripheral characters, particularly Rachel's father, are puzzling, underdeveloped types. But the strong characters, rich detail, and well-articulated emotions, interspersed with Rachel's startling writing, make a powerful story that will resonate with many teens. Gillian Engberg.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Koja (Extremities), the author of novels for adults, enters the YA realm with a solid if sometimes familiar tale of a high school misfit: "What do you do when you're too smart for the freaks, but too much of a freak for the smart kids? when there's no table in the lunchroom for the ones like you?" For Rachel, the answer is to wear her anger on her sleeve anger at her parents, at her shallow classmates, and at a world whose expectations seem so superficial and to isolate herself. She takes solace in her writing and in her volunteer job at an animal shelter, where she feels an instant kinship with a feral collie ("Why should I trade who I am for who they want me to be? So they can pat me on the head and put me in the normal-girl box? I'd rather be alone. I'd rather be a wild dog than jammed in someone's cage"). She hatches ill-advised plans to save the dog, whom she makes into the narrator of her essay-in-progress, "straydog" (passages are strategically interspersed). A number of elements are well-worn: the encouraging English teacher; the new boy who is a loner yet seems remarkably adept socially; the writing contest that validates Rachel's talent. Yet the protagonist, for all her alienation, proves both compelling and sympathetic. In telling her story, Koja plumbs not only Rachel's dark and darkly funny psyche, but also what it means to be human and to make connections of love and trust. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8-10-Grrl is a feral collie, as beautiful as Lassie, but so savage that no one can approach her cage. Rachel, who loves all animals but especially dogs, volunteers at the animal shelter and immediately identifies with the stray. The teen loathes her high school filled with nasty-minded students, and doesn't get along with her well-intentioned but overanxious mother or corporate-climbing "Brad the Dad." After Rachel's language-arts teacher encourages her to expand her essay, "A Dog's Life," for a writing contest, she reluctantly becomes intrigued with the idea. Mrs. Cruzelle also asks Rachel to be writing partners with Griffin, a new boy who also writes well, and an unexpected friendship develops. They even make plans to adopt Grrl. When Rachel finds out that the dog was euthanized, she becomes wild and trashes the shelter's office. In her grief, she also alienates her friend. Rachel's first-person narrative steers around sharp turns and raw edges much like her essay, "straydog." Its unconventional punctuation and long sentences convey the writer's sorrow and rage as she struggles with estrangement and loneliness. Eventually, she realizes that she was the one who felt cornered and trapped, and begins to rebuild her relationships with Griffin and her mother. The friendship with Griffin has romantic tension, but transcends high-school stereotypes. The novella format will appeal to older readers who seek compelling stories but are overwhelmed by thick books.-Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.