Dogs, Divorce and Dancing

by | Oct 26, 2022

I picked up “I, Cosmo” by Carlie Sorosiak from the new releases at my local library, but I hesitated to get started. I love books with dogs in them, but I have mixed feelings about books narrated by dogs (or cats or parakeets, etc).

It’s not that I’m not game to go almost anywhere a story wants to take me and it’s not that I don’t think animals have more ability to understand us than we give them credit for, but it’s the level of understanding, self-awareness and wider context an animal has to have to make a story work that I struggle to buy into.

Nevertheless, once I made peace with that as necessary to the story of “I, Cosmo,” I was captivated.

The main character, Max, dreams of being an astronaut and loves all things space related. The family dog, Cosmo, is just a year or two older than Max, though that makes Cosmo 82 in human years. Max has a little sister Emmaline, who Max is equally devoted to, but Max was his first love.

I worried at the beginning that, because Cosmo is an elderly dog and talked about his aches and pains, the story was going to be about his death and the grief that comes with losing a beloved family pet.

But instead this book depicts the turmoil in a family when the parents are on the verge of a divorce. I think many books have divorced parents, but not too many books that I have read put you right there, in the moment, with all that tension. Sorosiak, who has written two YA novels, does a great job showing how hard it is for Max and his sister, Emmaline, to witness.

To break the tension there is Cosmo, whose hilarious misunderstandings range from mistaking a raccoon for a cat (and letting it in the house) to thinking a sheep dog is part sheep, part dog. There is also Uncle Reggie, Max’s mom’s brother, who loves dogs and introduces Max and Cosmo to a dancing class and competition for dogs and their humans.

Reggie is one of my favorite characters and so important in a story like this. He understands Max and he gets Max’s (and Emmeline’s) relationship with Cosmo. He represents a safe harbor when things get too tense at home. Even Cosmo, especially Cosmo, recognizes by scent and body language and all the other ways dogs take the measure of their people that Reggie is a dog person, and so, someone who can be trusted.

Even though they won’t talk about it, Max is sure his parents are going to get divorced. That is bad enough, but he knows about a boy whose parents divorced and the mom got the kids and the dad got the dog. Max worries that if (or, more likely, when) his parents split, he and Cosmo will be split up.

Max thinks that if they win this dance competition his parents will see that he and Cosmo cannot be separated. They are a team.

There is a great passage where Cosmo talks about how he loves tennis balls the way Max loves the sky. “A ball is never just a ball: it’s the smell, the bounce, the memories. It’s camping trips and barbeques, winters and summers, Max and I playing fetch in dewy fields.”  

A lovely passage and one of my favorites, but here’s a pet peeve of mine! That should be Max and ME!!! Here’s how you figure it out: What if it were only Cosmo playing in the field? Would it be “I playing fetch in dewy fields”? It would NOT! Therefore, it should be “Max and me playing fetch…” But I digress…

Another powerful element to this story is the metaphor of the sheepdog. This unnamed dog in Cosmo’s neighborhood represents for him all the unnamed fear and threats in his life. The sheepdog lurks on the edges of the story, popping up unexpectedly and throwing Cosmo into a tizzy.

By the end of the story, Cosmo comes to terms with this particular dog and the reader gets to realize that, often those things we fear the most become less scary if we name them and confront them.

Pretty great message for a young reader!!

Nevertheless, once I made peace with that as necessary to the story of “I, Cosmo,” I was captivated.

The main character, Max, dreams of being an astronaut and loves all things space related. The family dog, Cosmo, is just a year or two older than Max, though that makes Cosmo 82 in human years. Max has a little sister Emmaline, who Max is equally devoted to, but Max was his first love.

I worried at the beginning that, because Cosmo is an elderly dog and talked about his aches and pains, the story was going to be about his death and the grief that comes with losing a beloved family pet.

But instead this book depicts the turmoil in a family when the parents are on the verge of a divorce. I think many books have divorced parents, but not too many books that I have read put you right there, in the moment, with all that tension. Sorosiak, who has written two YA novels, does a great job showing how hard it is for Max and his sister, Emmaline, to witness.

To break the tension there is Cosmo, whose hilarious misunderstandings range from mistaking a raccoon for a cat (and letting it in the house) to thinking a sheep dog is part sheep, part dog. There is also Uncle Reggie, Max’s mom’s brother, who loves dogs and introduces Max and Cosmo to a dancing class and competition for dogs and their humans.

Reggie is one of my favorite characters and so important in a story like this. He understands Max and he gets Max’s (and Emmeline’s) relationship with Cosmo. He represents a safe harbor when things get too tense at home. Even Cosmo, especially Cosmo, recognizes by scent and body language and all the other ways dogs take the measure of their people that Reggie is a dog person, and so, someone who can be trusted.

Even though they won’t talk about it, Max is sure his parents are going to get divorced. That is bad enough, but he knows about a boy whose parents divorced and the mom got the kids and the dad got the dog. Max worries that if (or, more likely, when) his parents split, he and Cosmo will be split up.

Max thinks that if they win this dance competition his parents will see that he and Cosmo cannot be separated. They are a team.

There is a great passage where Cosmo talks about how he loves tennis balls the way Max loves the sky. “A ball is never just a ball: it’s the smell, the bounce, the memories. It’s camping trips and barbeques, winters and summers, Max and I playing fetch in dewy fields.”  

A lovely passage and one of my favorites, but here’s a pet peeve of mine! That should be Max and ME!!! Here’s how you figure it out: What if it were only Cosmo playing in the field? Would it be “I playing fetch in dewy fields”? It would NOT! Therefore, it should be “Max and me playing fetch…” But I digress…

Another powerful element to this story is the metaphor of the sheepdog. This unnamed dog in Cosmo’s neighborhood represents for him all the unnamed fear and threats in his life. The sheepdog lurks on the edges of the story, popping up unexpectedly and throwing Cosmo into a tizzy.

By the end of the story, Cosmo comes to terms with this particular dog and the reader gets to realize that, often those things we fear the most become less scary if we name them and confront them.

Pretty great message for a young reader!!

This review was published in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette October 23, 2022

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