Someone To Run With, by David Grossman. Published 2005 by Picador.
Someone To Run With, by Israeli author David Grossman, is the story of two Israeli teens, Assaf and Tamar, who are brought together by a dog, but it's so much more than that.
Assaf has a summer job working for Jerusalem's City Hall; he's assigned to the dog pound, his task being to return strays to their owners. On his first day he's given a lively yellow lab named Dinka and as he chases the dog through the city, he becomes embroiled in the mystery of her owner's disappearance- a girl his age named Tamar. He meets people important in her life and finds himself determined to track her down.
In a parallel storyline Grossman shows a plucky young woman enmeshed in a bold plan to rescue another boy from the throes of heroin addiction and itinerant street life. Tamar knows where the boy, Shai, is- a musician, he's been taken in by a mafioso-like hustler named Pesach who runs a "home" for street performers, where he offers them shelter, sells them drugs and brutally extorts from them. Tamar is a talented singer herself and is soon able to sneak into Pesach's lair. Her hope is to get Shai out and help him overcome his addiction.
Equally driven by plot and character, I found Someone to Run With to be a lively, engrossing page-turner; it starts off slow as Grossman takes his time establishing the characters. But then, about a third or so of the way through- watch out! The story takes off like shot. There's a lot of sadness here- the situation of the runaway street kids and addicts is distressing and Pesach and his parents are genuinely creepy- but there's also a lot of cleverness and suspense, coincidence and even a little humor. Not everyone gets a happy ending but on balance it's a very hopeful story.
For myself I really enjoyed it. Grossman's style is literary but accessible and I think it would be a great choice for young adults as well. It's remarkably apolitical- at least on the surface. While the English translation I read was beautiful, I'm told Grossman is an amazing Hebrew writer so if you can read the original I'd recommend it. The city of Jerusalem is practically a supporting character in itself- Grossman gives the reader a great sense of place, with sights, smells and street life flowing through every pore of the story. And the characters are terrific- cagey, tightrope-walking Tamar and genuine, dogged Assaf really come alive, as do a myriad of supporting characters, most memorably the Greek nun Theodora whose story is its own mini-novel. With lots to keep you going and make you think, Someone To Run With is a winner.
P.S., it's also a great book club pick. I helped lead a great discussion on the book several weeks ago at an area synagogue; the discussion could have gone on for hours!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.