Cammie McGovern. Chester and Gus. New York: Harper, 2017. Print.
Chester is a Labrador Retriever who flunked service dog school for a reason that most dogs would—he hid at loud noises. Most dog owners have dogs that hate thunderstorms. However, Chester otherwise excelled in his training so much that his trainer Penney thought she could teach him to “read” flash cards.
Meanwhile, Gus is an eight-year-old autistic boy who seems to understand what is going on around him but who does not speak and retreats from people for no apparent reason. Chester and Gus tells the story about how they were brought together and how Chester was able to serve Gus, if not as a guide dog, at least as a therapy dog.
What sets the book apart is that it is told from Chester’s point of view. This is endearing. Most of us understand that dogs are naturally pack animals and tend to be oriented toward others. So Chester aims to please Penney and then tries, often in frustration, to relate to Gus.
Besides Gus’s behavior, there are other obstacles to overcome. Chester runs away at a loud noise at a Halloween “Fright Night” event. Gus loves scary things. Penney thinks she can train Chester to “read” like Koko the Gorilla that got a lot of publicity in the eighties.
Gus’s parents try to enroll him in school with Chester to assist. Gus seems to be improving, but kids who act differently are often magnets for bullies. One teacher thinks Chester is an unnecessary distraction and is able to get the administration to send Chester home.
And always there is Gus’s behavior.
Chester and Gus is sensitive and moving. We are told that the author is the mother of an autistic child, so she is writing with acute awareness. The book could be considered late elementary or YA reading level, and is well worth sharing—especially with any family or school kids who have to share their home or classroom with an autistic child. We have already recommended it for our school library.