While in many parts of America, greyhound racing has fallen from grace, if not disappeared completely, but it still thrives in small pockets. My state is one of those in which greyhound racing remains a defended part of the local economy.
In parts of the country such as mine, criticisms of greyhound racing may be shut out completely, so it’s always a relief to find accessible materials that give the other side of the issue. Ratzo is the fictional story of Josh, a middle school-aged boy who discovers an abandoned kennel of greyhounds. He keeps one of the dogs, named “Ratzo”, and dreams of racing him someday for cash and glory. However, after encountering the darker side of the sport, Josh decides the dog’s companionship is enough.
Although the story is fictional, readers are given an inside look at the greyhound racing industry many are unaware of. For example, the process of downgrading losing or aging dogs to less illustrious tracks is explained. Greyhounds also may be shipped from the US into Mexico or other countries.
After witnessing a racing accident, Josh compares greyhound racing unfavorably with his idealized view of horse racing. However, I suspect that if Josh dug deeply enough into the horse racing industry, he’d come up with things he dislikes just as much. (Think Eight Belles crashing and dying on the track, or Ferdinand ending up in cans of dog food in Japan.)
Ratzo is recommended for older children (middle school and junior high) because it contains some rather graphic descriptions of abandoned, injured and suffering greyhounds which may upset young or very sensitive kids. I do think if the author would have toned down the descriptions a little bit while staying true to the theme of his story (it can be done), he would have received a much wider audience.
Some readers have criticized this book for being a bit too tidy and happy at the end–however, let’s face it, juvenile fiction books in general tend to be that way. If anything, the happy ending gives readers a break from the rather downbeat beginning.
(review originally appeared at goodreads.com)