Some authors just know how to set the pace. Diane Daniels Manning is one of them. The short, zippy chapters of her dog-centeric novel ALMOST PERFECT move faster than a pup's tail when begging for a treat. This is a plus for a story that covers a lot of ground. Bess goes from a standard poodle breeder convinced that she just whelped her last litter to letting Benny, her precocious neighbor, keep her in the game as he persistently moves her closer and closer to the world's most prestigious dog show.
Benny is the ying to Bess's yang. He's a year away from high school, but he's different from other kids his age. On account of his autism, he finds he can relate better to dogs than he can to people. Turns out, Bess feels the same way. They're both on the recalcitrant side. They drive the people around them up a wall, including each other, but somehow they find a way to work together. Bess knows that Benny loves her dogs just as much as she does, and that goes a long way in strengthening their reluctant friendship into a lifelong bond.
They've both screwed up, and they've both let people down. It's hard for Bess to show love. She keeps everyone at arm's length from her son to her twin sister. She has a difficult time letting people in, so instead she puts all of her focus on her dogs. She's stacked up blue ribbons and trophy cups over the years, but she's also pushed away all of the people who care about her the most.
Benny has the opposite problem. He's hungry for affection, chasing after his mother's approval. After his parents' divorce, his father became his primary caregiver. However, he always saw Benny following in his footsteps and one day joining him in his law practice. After Benny's diagnosis, it became apparent that that isn't going to happen, and he never got over the disappointment, secretly wishing that somehow Benny might be able to turn it around and be normal. His mother, on the other hand, looks at Benny more like a meal ticket rather than a young boy starving for her attention. She doesn't care that her son's overweight or that the head therapist at his special school is worried about his progress. The only thing that makes her smile is when Benny steals money out of his father's wallet, providing them with the means to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sad, but true.
But it's the two dogs in their lives that get Bess and Benny to where they need to be. McCreery, the pride of Bess's career, and his young son, Breaker, help them get their priorities straight. They give them a common goal, winning a championship, but they do more than that, reminding them that while dogs are pretty great, people matter, too. Win or lose, they each learn a valuable lesson - dogs have the power to bring people together, and keep them together. A lesson neither of these two loners ever thought they'd be able to learn, much less embrace.