Based on an incredible true story, Carnegie Medal nominee and New York Times–bestselling author Megan Shepherd crafts a harrowing, propulsive girl-and-her-dog tale that will linger in your heart long after the last page.
Laika is a Cold Dog, a stray pup fighting for her life on the streets of Moscow. Then, one winter night, she is plucked from her alley to become a starflyer, a dog trained to travel into space. Distrustful of people, Laika tries to do everything she can to escape. That is, until she meets Nina.
Nina is a Cold Girl, lonely and full of questions. Her best friend has moved to America in a rush, leaving Nina to face the school bullies all by herself. Plus, her father’s work as a scientist in the Soviet Space Program grows more secretive by the day.
When the two meet in her father’s laboratory, their growing bond slowly warms the chill that has settled in each other’s hearts. As the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union grows fierce, Laika and Nina uncover shocking secrets and hard truths that will test their friendship. How will they find the courage to chase their dreams all the way to the stars?
Set in Moscow in 1957 against the internationally charged space race, Shepherd's (The Secret Horses of Briar Hill) tautly paced historical novel portrays the friendship between a stray dog and an empathic 12-year-old, both in the orbit of the Starflyer mission to launch animals into space. Alternating chapters follow Laika, a captured street dog inducted into training as a cosmonaut on a remote-controlled spacecraft, and Nina, the presumed-white daughter of a prominent rocket scientist, who volunteers with the group under a patriotic service program. The emotionally intense narrative effectively captures Laika's senses and viewpoint, both on the streets and in the lab, as she begins to trust other dogs, scientists, and especially Nina, who falls under suspicion after the sudden defection of her best friend's family to America. Though some perspectives feel heavy-handed, palpably-wrought authoritarianism follows Nina, who struggles to distance herself from her former friend and to conform to social pressure, priming her for a bond with Laika. Likewise, the voice of wise higher power Dog Star, who speaks to Laika, can feel out of place, but sympathetic characters deliver a tense and compelling adventure that stays true to historical events. An author's note offers background on the real Laika and the space race. Ages 8 12.