Two unlikely friends, an old woman and a boy with special needs, take an aging champion to Westminster Dog Show, and heal their troubled families.
Seventy year-old Bess Rutledge has fantasized about winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life, but now she has decided she is too old to follow her dream. She meets Benny, an angry fourteen year-old with mild autism and ADHD, who has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. He becomes convinced that winning Westminster with McCreery, Bess’ aging champion standard poodle, will finally make his mother proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy.
Almost Perfect was… cute. It had puppies and dogs – something that I love.
Confusing. I felt that it was very ‘jumpy’. I didn’t feel it was a smooth journey – it stumbled between various times and characters and it made it difficult to follow along without having to go back at some points to figure out what was going on or where we were in the story.
The actual story line itself made perfect sense towards the middle to the end. It was actually a story line I could relate to.
The book focuses on Benny who lives with his father and stepmother – both are not people he feels close to.
His goal in life is to make his mom (who is divorced from his father) to be proud of him.
His mom is someone who does not seem to be able to care for herself, none the less Benny. And she let’s him down far too often, but as most children strive for – he wanted her attention, her love.
The story mentions a lot of Benny’s school days at a ‘special school’ where he has no friends and visits his therapist constantly. (Honestly, where all of this fit into the actual story doesn’t make sense other than to show that clearly Benny is thought to have some sort of ‘issue’ and that he has no friends. The one friend he does make and the romance between his therapist and David? Not really important in my opinion.)
Benny’s neighbor is Bess. An elderly woman who used to breed show poodles and had a kennel, but was ‘retired’ and tearing down what was left of the kennels after this last set of puppies.
To cut to the chase; Bess’ life always revolved around her show poodles and her shows (such as the Westminster Dog Show). Her son David (mentioned above) gets put on the back burner and basically raised more by Mona, Bess’ twin sister.
Almost Perfect revolves into this story of making up for mistakes, filling in for absent people, and a friendship that blossoms out of a common interest.
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About the Author
Diane Daniels Manning is the co-founder and director of The New School in the Heights, a therapeutic school in Houston, Texas which helps children dealing with social-emotional challenges find success in school and life. She has a Ph.D. in Education and a post-doctoral M.P.H from Harvard and is a practicing child psychoanalyst certified by the American Psychoanalytic Association. Formerly, she was the Director of the Reading and Learning Disabilities Clinic at Tufts University, Lecturer and Research Associate in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Harvard, and Chair of the Department of Education at Tulane University. She learned the inner workings of dog show kennels by writing an authorized oral history of a lifetime President of the Poodle of Club of America. Her writing awards include the Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Prize and the Women in Film and Television Short Script Competition.
When not at The New School, Diane and her writing partners, a Standard Poodle named Misty and a rescue cat named Elvira, convene at the keyboard to share great thoughts and plan the dinner menu.
Author Interview with Diane Daniels Manning
Q1. Your book features an old woman and a twelve year-old special needs boy who take a dog to Westminster. Why did you decide to use Westminster as the vehicle to bring them together?
A Best in Show at Westminster was for me an obvious choice as the vehicle to illustrate wanting something with all your heart. The dog owners who participate, many of them people who scrimp and save to be part of it, embody a longing to be the best at whatever one does. It’s not a quality limited to dog shows.
Q2. Dogs are obviously important in the book. Would you say they function as therapy dogs for the boy?
Benny definitely matures in responsibility and empathy partly because of his relationship with the dogs. Very importantly, he learns he has a special talent with dogs that makes him feel unique and proud for the first time in his life. Obviously, even dogs who are not official therapy dogs can have that effect.
Q3. The New Hope School that Benny attends is similar in name to The New School in the Heights in Houston where you are Co-Founder and Executive Director. Are they the same?
Obviously, my experience as a child psychoanalyst and educator was relevant in creating a credible storyline for the school. When Benny is having a therapy session with Dr. Kate, I know first-hand how it might go. However, none of the characters are based on actual children in the school. It was important both as an author and a therapist not to cross that line.
Q4. What made you include the subplot of David, Bess’ son, and Dr. Kate, Benny’s shrink?
I thought it would be interesting to see how similar issues played out in characters of different generations. Bess and Kate have a great deal in common; they both are suspicious of making emotional connections with others. The way Benny’s mother treats him and the way Bess treated David as a boy also have strong parallels.
Q5. Do you have certain set places and times to write?
If I’m in the right frame of mind, I can write anywhere at any time as long as I have my laptop. I find that I have lost the ability to think and write by longhand anymore. I’m addicted to my keyboard.
Q6. Did you always love dogs? Did you have dogs at home when you were growing up?
We always had a dog at home. The first dog I remember was a dog who was kinda-sorta a poodle mutt named unimaginatively Fifi. My real pets were Nubian baby goats. Today I think a poodle’s nimble grace and drooping ears unconsciously remind me of those early pets.
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