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Read It Before You Screen It: A Dog’s Purpose

Read It Before You Screen It is a new monthly piece about the books behind upcoming feature films. Each spoiler-free book review will be posted a month before the movie’s US release date, giving readers plenty of time to dive into the story before it hits theaters.

First published in 2010, A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron wormed its way into readers’ hearts faster than a puppy confronted with a warm bed. It’s sold millions of copies, spawned a sequel and two children’s novels, and will soon be released as a major motion picture. The story is told from the point of view of a dog, with exactly the kind of inner voice that you’d expect a dog to have. The dog doesn’t understand English (much to the frustration of his humans), can’t talk to other animals (much to his own frustration), but makes his views on the world around him very clear. The story covers four different lifetimes for the dog: starting as Toby, who is reborn as Bailey, who is reborn as Ellie, who is finally reborn as Buddy. Each lifetime comes with a new family, new lessons, and a new take on just what it means to be a dog among the humans. No matter what his (or her) name is, there’s no denying that this is one very good dog.

The dog’s inner monologue is what makes this book truly great. His vivid descriptions of the world around him make it easy to see how the book will translate to the big screen. While no book-to-movie translation can incorporate every single scene, there are a few that readers are definitely hoping to see make the film cut. For example, anyone who has ever brought a puppy into a house with a cat can relate to Bailey’s introduction to Smokey. That’s not the end of Bailey’s failed introductions, either. His repeated adventures with a doggy door, a skunk, and a family of ducks are among the funniest parts of the book, and definitely on the wish list for an appearance in the movie. Ellie’s rescue of earthquake victims and of Geoffrey are truly moving, but other rescue scenes may be too intense to include and still keep the movie at a PG rating. One thing is for certain- readers and viewers alike should come prepared with tissues for each time the dog has to say goodbye.

Above all, it’s the bond between the dog and his humans that make the story truly worth experiencing. That can be a hard thing to capture in a movie where the cast that changes four times over. Everyone who loves the dog does so differently, just as he loves them differently. To make the movie adaptation successful, the filmmakers need to show all the different bonds between human and dog, and why each of them work so well. That’s going to be the biggest challenge, but it’s also what will take it from just another animal movie to a truly special film.

A Dog’s Purpose is available in hardback, paperback, e-book, and audiobook formats, and you can find it at your local library or wherever books are sold. The sequel, A Dog’s Journey, as well as both companion novels for young readers, Ellie’s Story and Bailey’s Story, are also available in all formats. There’s a version to fit every member of the family, except (ironically) the dog. Pick up a copy today, and read all about this magnificent dog before the movie.

The feature film, A Dog’s Purpose, stars Dennis Quaid, K.J. Apa, Britt Robertson, and Josh Gad as the voice of the dog. It’s been rated PG for thematic elements and some peril. The film releases nationwide in the US, Canada, and France on January 27th, 2017, and on April 21, 2017 in the UK.

(For those who can’t wait until next month, February’s Read It Before You Screen It book is Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. The movie hits US theaters under the same name on February 24, 2017.)

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Katie Anderson

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Katie Anderson is good with the term nerd. When not running disability services for FanFest events, she lives in Atlanta, GA and plays a lot of video games. Her work has most recently appeared in Forbidden Future: A Time Travel Anthology. If you'd rather read more but in a shorter format, her Twitter handle is @kdidd.