The Premise: After a short life as a stray mutt, reincarnated puppy Bailey (previously Toby) begins his life anew with 8-year old Ethan and his family. Bailey has it all. An adoring child. Plenty of flowers to dig up. And life, by all accounts, is good. As he stays by Ethan's side and watches him grow up, Bailey experiences the happiness and contentment unknown in his previous life.
But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey's journey, much to his puzzlement. Reborn as a puppy yet again after a full and satisfying life with Ethan, Bailey wonders--will he ever find his purpose? Never one to shy away from a good adventure (or good food), Bailey plunges ahead in each of his new doggy lives with vigor, always curious, but never worried. Taking each iteration of his life in stride, Bailey leads us through his days as a companion, a hero, and eventually, a wise soul, eager to learn and always searching for the reason of his existence.
The Players: A Dog's Purpose is narrated by our resident doggy spirit (who is first named Toby but probably best known to us as Bailey) of varying reincarnated color, shape, sex, and size. Bailey is a very sweet doggy narrator, and it is easy to relate to his thoughts and emotions, even as a human reader. As a family pet to Ethan, Bailey is loving, protective, and fiercely loyal, and although in each iteration of his life Bailey is another dog with another name, he never forgets the lessons he's learned in each previous one. When Bailey becomes a German Shepherd named Ellie, she learns to "Find" lost people as a police K-9 with her handlers Jakob and Maya, all while thinking of the skills life with Ethan had taught her. Throughout the book, Bailey's down-to-earth narration and his (her) doggy understanding of the human world are enormously endearing and sweet. When Ellie dies and once more becomes reincarnated as a puppy named Bear, you can't help but hope that he finds his way back to Ethan.
Overall Impressions: I'm a huge sucker for books about dogs, despite never having had one as a pet. I find dogs to be incredibly smart, empathetic, and fiercely loyal in a way few pets are. When I first picked up this book and began reading, I found the writing style to be a bit too simplistic compared to the prose of one of my favorite doggy books titled The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (highly recommended, by the way!), but as A Dog's Purpose continued, I began to enjoy Bailey's less poetic narration and embraced his matter-of-fact tone. I really enjoyed watching Ethan grow up through Bailey's eyes, although my favorite chapter in Bailey's life was probably his time as Ellie working with Jakob and Maya on the police force. Each time Bailey is reborn, he becomes a whole new dog with a whole new purpose, but there's always something of himself that makes him "Bailey" to us still, and that's a great thing! Each chapter of Bailey's life is so full of experiences that when it ends you can't help but feel happy that he's led a life full of love and joy. I really enjoyed that the author tied in all the lessons Bailey learned during each life with the next. When Bailey is reincarnated for the last time, I was hoping that his final purpose would be to find "the boy," as he so affectionately referred to Ethan in his childhood.
The main human characters in this book are all relatable people with their strengths and flaws, and Bailey brings us his doggy perspective to the workings of the world around him. He doesn't judge, but that's not to say he doesn't have his own opinions. Wise beyond his years, yet also still plagued with the simplicity of a dog's way of thinking, Bailey is eager to love and to forgive, a dog who knows the key words "good dog" and works hard to hear that praise. Indeed, Bailey, Ellie, Bear, and ultimately Buddy, are all "good dogs," and I couldn't help but fall in love with him/her again and again each time he was reborn. Without spoiling the ending, I'll just conclude this review by saying that Bailey's journey comes full circle and I couldn't be more pleased with the ending to this book. A Dog's Purpose is a book full of laughs, love, and the sheer happiness of a loyal dog who is a best friend to all the humans he has touched in his life. Whether or not you believe that we're all here for a reason, you'll fall in love with Bailey's sweet nature and be invested in his journey to "go home."