The book is about Ted letting go of his parents. They didn’t treat him very well, but he’s nonetheless haunted by their gruesome and abrupt end. He didn't get to say goodbye. Or tell them off.
Strays is also about Ted finding real friends. Family. A “pack” to run with.
In fact, early in the story, Ted, who is awkward and unpopular at his previous school, finds his closest friends are animals, with whom he can inexplicably communicate. It just starts, without warning, around page 14 or so. At first, I wonder if Ted’s imaging it, making it up, or if he’s just plain crazy. Is this an ability he’s always had, or has it developed since his parents’ death? As it turns out, it doesn’t matter, because it provides for Ted (and me) what’s needed, when it’s needed. At first, it’s only animals who know him, love him, care about him. Then it’s people, and the animals can go back to being important to Ted in a different way. They don’t have to stand in for real human relationships.
|Strays by Ron Koertge|
Each character in Strays is well drawn—odd, unique, and authentic. Ted’s foster mother treats a doll like a real child after having lost her own. The father doesn’t particularly like kids, and doesn’t really want to be a part of the foster care system, and might just be in it for the money or to give his wife kids in a non-biological and non-adoptive way. And he has tons of unreasonable rules. But the foster parents are demonized as foster parents often are. Neither is abusive, and both do pretty much exactly what they say they’ll do. They’re irritating and predictable in almost a comforting sort of way, and Ted knows where he stands with them—more so than he did with his biological parents.
Astin, Megan, Wanda, and C.W. all reveal themselves to be multidimensional, too. Astin is a tough biker who’s figured out how to live successfully with the Rafters. He decides to take Ted under his wing, even though he’s out of this place (and the system) very soon. Megan is wealthy and can be haughty, bossy, but she cares enough for Ted to introduce him to Wanda, and she’s insightful enough to know they’ll hit it off. C.W. constantly criticizes Ted for his clothing and strives for a tough “street” image, but he falls in love with a stray dog who he puppy-talks to, and is visibly moved when Ted offers him his seat on Astin’s bike following a shooting that C.W. witnesses. And Wanda is bitter about her parents ditching her and somewhat ashamed of her weight, but she’s warm, witty, and kind, always being up front with Ted about their relationship while only being somewhat of a tease—no more than Ted can handle, though.
All of them are strays, lost, abandoned in some way or another, by the adults that are supposed to be responsible, in charge. Supposed to love them. But they find each other. And even though their relationships aren’t permanent, they remind them that they can have friends, family, meaningful connections, even without parents.
Recommended for boys, ages 14-17.