Story Summary: Atlanta Burns hasn’t had it easy as of late. When we met her in Shotgun Gravy, she had just returned to town and to school with fewer friends and a bigger reputation. Unable to let a group of bullies torment a stranger, Atlanta inadvertently befriended two boys, Chris and Shane, and intertwined herself in bigger drama with more powerful players than she could have ever imagined. Bait Dog picks up immediately after…well, let’s just say when Chris found himself troubled. 

When a classmate turns to Atlanta for help solving the murder of her dog, Atlanta laughs her off. Once her mother reveals their money and mortgage woes, however, the money the classmate offered is too tempting. In search of the culprit, Atlanta uncovers the ugly truth behind the disappearance of multiple dogs in the area. Following the bloody trail of bait dogs and unsavory teens leads do a much broader and more dangerous place-an illegal dog fighting operation, tucked away in the country and away from prying eyes. With a new cast of low-lifes and the return of the old, can Atlanta expose the operation for what it is before they manage to destroy her friends, her home, her (new) dog…and Atlanta herself?

First of all…holy shit. I picked up Bait Dog after it sat on the shelf for a couple of months (I knew it was going to be good, I just had to find the time). I intended to savor it, to make it last and spread the goodness out over at least a few days. Instead, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up a good chunk of the night just so I could finish the damn book before I went to sleep. It’s not a particularly heavy read but it still took a few tense hours to get through.

I think it’s important to mention that this book isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if you’re an animal lover. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “bait” animal is used to train dogs to fight. Wendig doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the cruel reality of everything that goes in to dog fighting and I appreciate it; doing so would erase some of the inhumanity and bite (no pun intended, but I’ll let you have it anyway) that comes with facing something so horrible.

This story is absolutely gripping. In true Atlanta style, our heroine willfully and knowingly throws herself into situations that are way over her head, armed with nothing but a sharp tongue, uncooperative attitude and at times, a shotgun. We watch, helpless, as she slowly digs herself into a deeper and deeper hole. Throughout, however, she remains unwilling to compromise what’s right for what’s easy. When presented with a chance to erase her mom’s mortgage woes, to get one of the big players in town off her back, to remove herself from a volatile situation, Atlanta bargains the way Atlanta knows how-a big Fuck You with a shotgun shell.

Wendig does well writing Atlanta both a petulant teen and an unwilling hero. On one hand she’s surly, she’s rude, she can’t cope with her emotions and gets an F+ in ‘plays nice with others’. On the other, she’ll go to hell and back for her friends, she’ll stand up to the bad guys and she’s not afraid to sacrifice to make sure people pay for what they’ve done. Atlanta is strong but Atlanta is broken; she’s a social pariah but the hero of the freaks, the geeks  and the outcasts. It doesn’t always just get better, sometimes you have to make it better and if you need help, Atlanta is there.

As I’ve experienced with all of his work so far, Wendig’s writing is beautiful, visceral and, at times, cringe-worthy. Both Atlanta Burns novels have managed to feel like an extended roller-coaster ride, one that saves the biggest drop for the very end. The stakes ramp up page after page until you’re not sure how Atlanta will manage to cope, let alone survive. The antagonists are well done; none are evil for evil’s sake but they give you plenty of reasons to hate them. And if you’re from a small town or you’ve ever lived in one, Atlanta’s world rings eerily true-the poor are poor, the powerful get away with murder, and racial tensions and prejudice bubble below the surface, tucked away and acted upon in the dark, away from prying eyes.

When I say I stayed up all night to read this book, remember that I have a toddler who’s an early riser-that’s huge for me to do. The story just managed to sink its claws into me in all the right ways. If you can handle the content, I definitely recommend reading first Shotgun Gravy then Bait Dog.

You can find Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds where he blogs about his life, latest projects and dispenses colorful writing advice.

Bait Dog can be picked up from Chuck himself or here on Amazon, along with Shotgun Gravy.

Also, rumor is Chuck Wendig tasers girl scouts when he gets bored*. Just sayin’.

*rumor is unfounded and most likely a lie I was told. But still. Girl scouts.