Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler

Seventeen-year old Katie isn’t used to being in control. She lets everybody boss her around. Her mother drives her crazy with her constant criticism and advice, and her boyfriend of two years just destroyed her whole world by dumping her on her birthday. Yeah, he's just such a nice guy, especially since the reason he dumped her is because he was already cheating on her.

It’s just as well that Katie’s headed to a summer program at the University of Texas in Austin–at least there, she can get over Chuck at her own pace. But Austin holds its own challenges–like Christine, a cooler-than-thou roommate whose rocker boyfriend is permanently camped out on the couch. Along with all his rocker band-mates. They never seem to leave, and they're always eating Katie's food.

Christine drags Katie to the city pound to check out a potential pet, being that she totally loves wiener dogs. It’s Katie, though who ends up falling in love with a pair of brown doggie eyes. Before she can think it through, she’s standing out on the curb with her adorable new dog, Seamus.

There’s only one problem: Seamus is a holy terror. He chews up the apartment, barks maniacally, terrorizes their landlady’s cat, and seems destined to keep Elevator Guy, the cutest guy in their building, far away. Soon enough, Katie is being threatened by her landlady to be evicted, and by her roommate, who hates Seamus after he tears up the apartment.

Finally, Katie takes Seamus in for obedience training, where she’s told, “You have to be the alpha dog.”

The alpha dog. The head of the pack. Katie has never wielded much power before, but she finds that being top dog can be addictive. Soon she’s acting the alpha dog in every phase of her life, standing up to Christine and her boyfriend, taking control of her own life and actually talking to and nothing will ever be the same.

I have to say that I fully appreciate winning this copy from the late Page Flipper's blog because, while not my favorite book ever, it was rather entertaining. The writing was clever and captivating--even when the plot and characters weren't. I haven't read Jennifer Ziegler's other novel, How Not To Be Popular, but the concept seemed much more appealing to me when I first heard about either of these books. The concept behind Alpha Dog is a weak plot with morals. That's it. There's nothing about it that may appeal to any reader when first picked up (unless, of course, you are a huge dog-lover) but once you start reading, the writing makes up for that.

Alpha Dog was one of those stories with characters that you don't particularly like, and a plot that isn't the best, but you can't take your head out of. I don't know what it is with characters named Katie but I just have a problem with them (see my review for Perfect You). This specific Katie had too many problems with self-esteem, let people boss her around too much, and made everything a bigger deal than it was.

I'm kind of getting tired of the typical low self-esteem main character of books. I'd like to see something more original (I, myself, am guilty of this, so I don't mean this to be harsh) because most readers, while they may relate to the main character, won't really like her. I don't mean that I would prefer her to be a perfect snob, but Katie just conforms to whatever someone wants her to. She lets Christine take over the apartment, she lets the guys in the band eat her food and sleep on her couch, and she lets her mother treat her like a five-year-old. Not to mention she lets her boyfriend of two years walk all over her and then gets very, very upset when he breaks up with her after cheating.

That is too much of a self-esteem issue.

And I realize that was the center for the plot. Taking charge. Becoming the alpha dog in her own life, but that's what I think made it so weak. If having those issues makes a character weak, they're going to make a plot weak. It was a good message, and a good life lesson, but I don't think it needed to be the main point of the plot.

There were some good parts to Alpha Dog, though! I feel like I need to point those out so as not to put you too down on this book.

Jennifer Ziegler is a great writer. There had to be something to suck me in, right? Well, that was it. Like I said before, I haven't read How Not To Be Popular, so I have not other judging standpoints, but I was impressed with Alpha Dog. She took the opportunity to be a writer when it arose. She's not the best I've read, but this was her first novel. Not every author starts out as great as they can be. And from what I've read of reviews for HNTBP this is the case with her.

There were many times when I thought she found the perfect line, or the best word to fit into a situation.

And then, there was Matt. Matt was the perfect addition to the novel, as I think he saved it from being lost to my memory forever. He had depth, a past, complexity. He, I think, was the most developed character of the whole story--and the most vulnerable. At times, he appeared to be a Knight in Shining Armor, and others, you didn't know what to make of him. But as he moved in next door to Katie and Christine, Katie kept running into him in the elevator. Hence, Elevator Guy.

Unfortunately, this was his name for over half the book. She didn't even know his actual name was Matt until a little over halfway when Christine through a party. And then he was sort of absent for a while, and came back later--and somehow as a big part of the story? I think Jennifer Ziegler worked too hard to try to squeeze him in the end when it should have been effortless to work him into the whole story. He fits with Katie. They have chemistry. Why wait till the end to show it?

Though it may not seem like it, I did enjoy this book. I think that if you're a dog lover, you should definitely pick it up, and if not, then put it on your list for later. You may find you like it--a lot.

3.5 cups of java for this one.



ambeen said...

I have to disagree that this book as nothing to offer to a reader upon first picking it up (besides being a dog lover). It's quite a harsh statement for any book, and I just wanted to say that while I love dogs, that's not why I want to read this book. The story sounds interesting and like it would just be a fun read overall.

BooksandLove said...

I agree about the increasing amount of "pushover characters"...I would like to read about characters who stand up for themselves w/out caring about popularity more often.

Caroline said...

Perfect You is Kate, not Katie.

But it is true that characters of both names tend to be rather irritating. They should stick to what is very likely their given name:


Always awesome. Always.

*Heather* said...

It was Kate? I could have sworn it was Katie. Close enough, though.

=) they should stick with Katherine.