Written by Mike Maroney
292 Pages Age 8—12
. . .DEBUT
Genre: Middle Grade Book, Fiction
Themes: Bullies, Dogs, Corruption
Natasha is staying with her grandfather in Horridgrad—a town full of criminals and corrupt officials, ruled by Ivan the Horrid. To cheer her up, her grandfather buys her a snow-white puppy. She calls him Mishka.
Mishka grows to be big and brave. He foils a post office robbery and saves some children from drowning. Soon he is helping scare all the thugs from the streets. Everyone feels safer with Mishka around.
But Ivan is not about to let the ‘Big Dog’ ruin his rackets. When he discovers Mishka’s secret, he plots to use it to get rid of him for good. (from back cover)
“It was 6 am on Saturday morning and already the sun shone brightly in the sky. June in the Russian north was as warm as December was cold. Natasha started to comb her long brown hair. The summer holidays had started and weeks of free time stretched ahead of her, but she was not happy.”
Why I like Mishka
Mishka’s story begins with Natasha. Her father is starting a temporary job and cannot take Natasha with him. Instead, she spends the time with her grandfather, in Horridgrad, Russia (named after Ivan the Horrid). She is unhappy and scared. Everyone, even the kids, stay behind doors to avoid the criminals and Ivan. The estates (equivalent to apartment complexes) have deteriorated over time; the playground, taken over by a gang of teenage boys, is not functional. The once flourishing factory-town is nearly insolvent with graffiti tags marking the walls.
Grandpa offers to buy Natasha a puppy for company, which she has always wanted. At the market, a man with many puppies catches Grandpa’s eye. As everyone looks at the puppies, Natasha sees a dirty-white puppy at another stall. Chained to his cage, the malnourished pup whines unhappily. Grandpa negotiates the price; the puppy happily goes off with Natasha and her group. The puppy’s new name becomes Mishka.
The next day, grandpa thinks the puppy looks bigger. The day after that, Max says the same thing when he stops by for a very early, unexpected breakfast. Mishka has a voracious appetite and especially likes cake; any flavor, any size, any shape. Kidding, Grandpa says, “He’ll eat us out of house and home.”
Mishka wins over everyone he meets, except the criminals. Mishka stops them from whatever they were going to pull-off. His size alone scares them. When Mishka opens his mouth and playfully growls, his four canines are visible, which make the bad guys run as if a hornet’s nest has dropped behind them. Ivan, his criminal gang, and the corrupt mayor all plan to take out Mishka while placing the blame on anyone but themselves.
This sets up the final confrontation between the town and Ivan and his sidekick, the mayor. The mayor’s police force confiscates Mishka, claiming he is a vicious breed and a danger to society. The only way to save the dog is to vote in a new mayor. Step in Sergei Ivanovich, now better known around Horridgrad as “Deda.”
I think Mishka is wonderful read, yet it does have a few errors in grammar; not many, but enough for me to notice. There are more near the end, as if the author tired from typing up his story in one sitting. Having read the story three times makes it easier to spot these things. The last reading was yesterday while trying to find the correct spelling of a character’s name. An hour later, I noticed I had been reading, not scanning. I had found the correct spelling yet could not put the book down. I read until the end.
Mishka is just that good. That may be all I need to say to convince you Mishka is a story you will enjoy, but I agreed to write a proper review.
Mishka is a middle grade novel for kids age ten to twelve. Kids this age will like the bubble-brained criminals in Ivan the Horrid’s gang. They will like the reformation of the teens and the town. Horridgrad is the-little-town-that-could; they just didn’t know this until Mishka (Natasha and Max) arrived. Mishka is huge for his age, with most of the children not able to reach his shoulder when he stands on all fours. He may or may not be the most humongous dog alive; he most certainly has the gentlest disposition. Mishka knows to be gentle with children and kind to everyone. Mishka loves to play and play is what he does when stopping any robbery or dangerous event. Mishka is the dog you dream of having in your family.
Mishka is Mike Maroney’s debut! Maroney’s first and hopefully not his last, middle grade novel. The characters are well-developed, including many minor characters. It is clear Mike took special care of his cast and each plot. His writing can be visual. At times, I thought the movie “Mishka” played on the television as I read the novel. Nothing in the press release mentions Mishka is a series. I would love that, but then, I think I might love anything this interesting first-time author writes.
While Mishka is a good novel for middle grade kids. Younger, advanced readers will also enjoy the story of the hero dog. The story has a cozy heart, light humor, and a present day tone with a hint of yesterday, or maybe this is simply Russia’s flair. Teachers can choose from many themes when planning classroom discussions. For example, which is the worst adult bully, the mayor or Ivan? Why, or how, did Mishka end up as a “dog” for sale? Why did Ivan choose this town to make his own (what characteristics of the town and the people make it attractive to Ivan)?
I hope this is a proper enough review for Mishka. He is a wonderful dog with an outstanding story. Only one word comes to mind when thinking of the “Big Dog:” contagious-inspiration!
Available at Amazon
Currently 99¢ at Kindle Nation Daily (may end at any time)
MISHKA. Copyright © 2020 by Michael Carlos Maroney. Published by Talisman/AMF Media Ltd., New York, NY.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[824 word count-review only]
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