The best books with dogs as supporting characters

Who am I?

Dogs make great supporting characters, adding drama or humor or pathos, and revealing so much about the humans in the story. I discovered this in writing my first novel: The narrator’s dog keeps her grounded when things go wrong and makes it possible for her to keep going through difficult times. For the reader, he provides levity and depth without turning it into a book about a dog. I had a great model – I used my own dog Boris, even appropriating his name. I think of the fictional Boris as real-life Boris’s best self.

I wrote...

East of Troost

By Ellen Barker,

Book cover of East of Troost

What is my book about?

Boris the German Shepherd co-stars in this novel about a woman who moves back to her childhood home in a much-changed neighborhood—punctuated by memories of redlining, white flight, and racial discrimination in her teenage years. A single white woman in a mostly Black area? The neighbors are skeptical about her story, and she is nervous about her safety and her ability to make the house livable. One week in, she and Boris come home to find a burglar in the house. The police arrive, the intruder is arrested, and a mystery develops about his story. Boris doesn’t do stairs, but nothing else fazes him. He provides levity, moral support, and visitor screening. He sings along with firetrucks. And (spoiler alert) he Does. Not. Die.

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The books I picked & why

Boy Underground

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Book cover of Boy Underground

Why did I love this book?

Boy Underground is a coming-of-age story of four teen-aged boys in rural California who each go underground at some point, literally or figuratively.

Akira is a terrier and can’t go with her family when they are forced into a Japanese internment camp, and she, too, goes underground.

Catherine Ryan Hyde unfolds this story with a subtle voice that resonates with compassion for the boy hiding from the law, the boy sent to the camp, the boy living with his own secret, and the boy who drops out of school to enlist.

And the dog, who is a pawn in the great drama of WWII as it plays out in this remote corner of America.

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boy Underground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During WWII, a teenage boy finds his voice, the courage of his convictions, and friends for life in an emotional and uplifting novel by the New York Times and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling author.

1941. Steven Katz is the son of prosperous landowners in rural California. Although his parents don't approve, he's found true friends in Nick, Suki, and Ollie, sons of field workers. The group is inseparable. But Steven is in turmoil. He's beginning to acknowledge that his feelings for Nick amount to more than friendship.

When the bombing of Pearl Harbor draws the US into World War II,…

Never Coming Back

By Alison McGhee,

Book cover of Never Coming Back

Why did I love this book?

I loved everything about this book, from the story arc to Alison McGhee's turn of phrase and use of language.

Her descriptions of people and scenes range from hilarious to tear-inducing, with a side of quirky.

The best thing, though, is the story itself, Clara going back to the place she was never going back to, and dealing not only with her mother's dementia but with the things that made her leave town in the first place.

In this story, the dog is named Dog and he died before the story begins. The blue ceramic urn with his ashes is one of the very few things her mother kept for her – a talisman.

Soul-searching, gripping, and so very well written, this is one of my favorite books of this century. 

By Alison McGhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Never Coming Back as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“[A] poignant meditation on the relationship between a mother and daughter” from the New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Baby (Publishers Weekly).
When Clara Winter left her rural Adirondack town for college, she never looked back. Her mother, Tamar, a fiercely independent but loving woman who raised Clara on her own, all but pushed her out the door, forcing Clara to build a new life for herself, far from her roots, far from her high school boyfriend, far from the life she had always known. Now more than a decade has passed, and Clara, a successful writer, has been…

Lessons in Chemistry

By Bonnie Garmus,

Book cover of Lessons in Chemistry

Why did I love this book?

The star of this book, Elizabeth Zott, is a chemist in the 1950s, an era when women just didn’t do that sort of thing.

Six-Thirty (the dog) is a scene stealer in this story, which is quirky and funny through the first many chapters.

The topic is serious, but Bonnie Garmus’s story-telling style will make you laugh anyway. Six-Thirty is a failed bomb-sniffing dog who is found in an alley and ends up being both child-minder and lab assistant.

Hilarious without being over the top. 

By Bonnie Garmus,

Why should I read it?

42 authors picked Lessons in Chemistry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • Meet Elizabeth Zott: a “formidable, unapologetic and inspiring” (PARADE) scientist in 1960s California whose career takes a detour when she becomes the unlikely star of a beloved TV cooking show in this novel that is “irresistible, satisfying and full of fuel. It reminds you that change takes time and always requires heat” (The New York Times Book Review).

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, Oprah Daily, Newsweek, GoodReads

"A unique heroine ... you'll find yourself wishing she wasn’t fictional." —Seattle Times…

What Comes After

By JoAnne Tompkins,

Book cover of What Comes After

Why did I love this book?

What Comes After is a heart-rending story of a boy who is brutally murdered.

A school friend commits suicide shortly after, leaving a note confessing to the murder, but there are unanswered questions.

Meanwhile, a destitute and pregnant teenager shows up in town with worries and questions of her own. Rufus the dogs brings the dad and the girl together, then rides along with both of them as their intertwining stories unfold.

He doesn’t solve crimes or save lives, but he does what rescued dogs so often do – rescue their people.

This book is tagged as a murder mystery and a thriller, and it is both those things.

But essentially it is the first-person narrative of an aching father, the people around him, and the dog who shares his grief.

By JoAnne Tompkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Comes After as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Named a top beach read of summer by Oprah Daily, Good Housekeeping, The Wall Street Journal, and more

“Nail-biting wallop of a debut . . . a thoughtful, unexpectedly optimistic tale.” —The New York Times

“If you enjoyed The Searcher by Tana French, read What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins. . . . a mystery—and a gritty meditation on loss and redemption, drenched in stillness and grief.” —The Washington Post

After the shocking death of two teenage boys tears apart a community in the Pacific Northwest, a mysterious pregnant girl emerges out of…

Book cover of The Treehouse on Dog River Road

Why did I love this book?

This is a feel-good book with just enough punch to keep it from being cute.

It comes with a building project, some hurricane-induced drama, a bit of romance, and two dogs.

Cooper and Bubba are the canines who wind themselves around the main characters, as most dogs do in real life. Cooper is everyone’s friend, and he orchestrates introductions.

But he’s also a bolter who gets lost just as flooding begins and evacuation becomes unavoidable.

Catherine Drake’s books are always a respite between heavier reading, and this one is one of the best.

By Catherine Drake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Treehouse on Dog River Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young, determined woman figures out life and love while staying true to herself in this whip-smart and genuinely witty debut.

Twenty-eight-year-old Hannah Spencer wants nothing more than to change everything about her life. After ten years of living in cities, Nathan Wild has just moved back home to Vermont and doesn't want to change anything about his.

Recently laid off from her depressing job in Boston and ready for a challenge, Hannah heads to Vermont for the summer to take care of her sister's kids and do some serious soul searching. There, against the stunning landscape of the Green…

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