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Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley
Review by Harriet Klausner
Putnam Juvenile Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780399246753
Date: 20 September 2007 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Draco Australiensis otherwise known as dragons are native to Australia, but when the human Australians nearly wiped them out, they became an endangered species. The Smokehill National park is one of the few preserves where dragons live. People are of one of two opinions about these creatures; one group deems they have the right to live emphasizing that there is no confirmed record of a dragon killing a human; the opposition believes they are foul dangerous monsters that need eradication.

When Jake Mendoza, the son of the Smokehill director, spends his first overnight camping alone, he finds a dying dragon, her dead babies, and nearby the corpse of a poacher. In the mother's dying eyes, Jake sees a glimmer of hope because one of her offspring still lives. Without considering the laws of the land that forbid humans from saving a dragon, Jake picks up and cuddles the dragonlet; to the baby, he is now her mother.

Jake quickly learns that it is not easy to raise a dragonlet, who must remain in hiding from the authorities because if outed all the Smokehill staff and families would be arrested and the dragonlet destroyed. As they grow up together, their bond strengthens; perhaps the only downsides are a constant headache and a rash because his dragonlet is extremely hot. The two are the first known friendship bonding between a human and a dragonlet.

Hero does not like being away from Jake, but the time comes when the human has to hide his best friend in a deserted segment of the park to help her get ready for the impending separation. She is now too big to carry or hide; she is better trained to forage for food and water. A crisis emerges as the family of the poacher who have wealth and powerful connections want the dragons extinct. Jake takes his buddy to a flock of dragons for her protection, but they realize he and the dragon with him communicate telepathically. Jake becomes the champion of the dragons.

Dragonhaven reads like a journal told mostly in a first person perspective by Jake on life raising a dragonlet. This technique somewhat limits the action and obviously other viewpoints (except to a degree the dragonlet even though hers is filtered by Jake), but it also provides deep insight into caring and nurturing an animal normally living in the wild while having to conceal the beast from family, friends, and authorities. Readers will enjoy Jake's ingenuity as he arranges a makeshift marsupial pouch for his dragonlet and brilliantly feeds his buddy; classic example of desperation as much as "necessity is the mother of invention".

Humans have opposing views concerning dragons with neither side able to reconcile the extreme polarizing positions. It is only when Jake meets the flock and realizes he can communicate with them that they have a chance to survive, as humans can learn to do what he already has accomplished. Jake risks his life from those willing to kill a dragon hugger and jail to save the species. Readers (except those wanting species genocide) will admire Jake for his determination to do what he believes is morally the right thing. Different in tone than most books that soar with dragons, Robin McKinley writes an enchanting urban fantasy adults and teens will enjoy.

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