As Mark Twain said, ‘I like a good story, well told…’ That’s exactly how I would describe The Wonder of Lost Causes. Nick Trout presents the story of an 11-year old boy (Jasper) who has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and lives alone with his veterinarian mother, Kate. Told from alternating viewpoints (Jasper’s and Kate’s) we learn what its like to live with a CF diagnosis and how a very special dog can change a person’s outlook on life!
Kate is (with good reason) a very involved, nervous mother who has scheduled Jasper’s life (by necessity of his condition) down to the minute. She does everything she can to protect him from anything that might cause his condition to worsen while harboring the typical ‘mom concerns’ about her child’s happiness and ability to fit in with others.
From the beginning of the story, we are in Kate’s and Jasper’s heads. We see the difference between how Jasper sees himself and how his mother sees him: Jasper is engaged with the world and seems fearless in the face of a terminal illness diagnosis while Kate is somewhat neurotic and works to wrap Jasper in ‘bubble wrap’ to keep him safe.
Jasper spends a great deal of time at his mom’s veterinary practice and is introduced to a dog (Whistler) who has been horribly abused and is terribly rough-looking. While Jasper has always had bonds with the animals he encounters, his relationship with Whistler is particularly special and he begins to believe that he can ‘communicate’ with Whistler and feel his feelings.
Drama ensues as Whistler begins to have a positive impact on Jasper’s life and Kate struggles with her resolve regarding not allowing Jasper to have a pet or deviate from his precise life schedule. Trout does an amazing job illustrating the love between Jasper and his mom while also giving us a very intimate look at the necessary level of concern that a parent with a terminal child experiences constantly.
Ultimately, a decision must be made…not only by Kate but by outside parties who wish to seperate Jasper and Whistler. You’ll find yourself torn again and again between rooting for the relationship that has blossomed between boy and dog and considering the impacts of that relationship on Jasper’s health and others involved. This is ultimately a feel-good book and you’ll walk away sure that the right decision has been made…your heartstrings, however, will definitely be pulled along the way.
I was incredibly impressed by Trout’s ability to walk the delicate path between Jasper’s desire to ‘live life’ and his mother’s need to protect him. The reader is given very clear glimpses into what it might be like to live with a terminal illness and I was not surprised to learn (though I had to do some digging to find out) that Trout is both a veterinary surgeon and a CF parent. His insight into Kate’s neuroses was obvious and his ability to make the reader feel those complex feelings was masterful.
Trout also knows his dogs. While I had never read any of his other books (including Patron Saint of Lost Dogs and Dog Gone, Back Soon) I discovered that his back catalog is devoted almost solely to books with a canine protagonist. Writing from what he knows, The Wonder of Lost Causes, was both sweet and penetrating. I loved the endearing relationships between Jasper and others (Whistler, his mother, his elderly friend Burt, etc.) but didn’t find them too saccharine. That balance is exceptionally important to me…I often find overly sugary books offputting.
The realistic (sometime even caustic) perspective that Trout provides allowed me to truly enjoy this book without feeling like I was reading a fairy tale. His characters are real and their feelings are authentic. The plot, though somewhat fantastical in that the boy and dog communicate with one another, was believable enough that I found myself flipping through the book in parts to find out if it was based on a true story. Though not written from the perspective of the dog, Lost Causes reminded me, in some ways, of The Art of Racing in the Rain by allowing human realities to be illuminated by the involvement of a canine companion.
If you love animals (especially dogs) Lost Causes is definitely a book you shouldn’t miss. Even if you don’t, however, this book has something to say that you’ll want to read. You don’t have to love dogs to love a ‘good story, well told.’
To get your copy of The Wonder of Lost Causes, click the link below:The Wonder of Lost Causes: A Novel