This is honestly my new all-time favorite book. It is "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein. When I bought the book, I was drawn to it simply because I thought it was about a dog. It was about so much more than that!
Enzo, the dog, tells the story from his point of view looking back over his life. He lives with Denny, a race car driver who adopted him when he was a puppy, Denny's wife Eve and their daughter Zoe. Enzo longs to be a human and knows that in his next life, he will be reincarnated as a man. He studies as much as he can in this life by watching TV and listening intently to Denny's stories, hoping to take what he has learned into his next life, when he will finally have opposable thumbs!
The story itself is a tear jerker at times (I was crying on page four), but always wonderful. More than that, however, is that the book is wonderfully written. In fact, many times while reading I noted to myself that I wish I was able to write the way Garth Stein can. I know nothing about auto racing and never cared to, for that matter. Mr. Stein writes about it so perfectly that I can imagine exactly what it is like: I can see the driver in the car, I can smell the rubber when the tires get hot, I can sense how the driver is feeling and I can feel the rush of air as the car goes whizzing past. At one point, Denny takes Enzo for a ride on the track. He instructs Enzo to bark twice if he wants to go faster. I was able to feel Enzo's exhilaration at taking the turns at speed. I felt the same desire to go one more lap with them.
Enzo watches as Denny moves through life, whether he is enduring hardships or experiencing great happiness. Enzo takes it all in, then tells us what happened and what his take is on it all. He is a brilliant dog with deep love and loyalty to his family, especially Denny. He yearns to be able to talk, to tell what he knows, but he can't. He has to wait until his next life. He learns, of course, that as much as he wants to be human, being a dog is pretty wonderful too.
The ending didn't happen quite as I expected it to, but it was better than I expected. Thank you Mr. Stein for that bitter-sweet surprise. This is going to be the one book that I tell everybody about and the one book that I grab if my house ever catches fire.