Reidar Jönsson’s My Life as a Dog is a novel that deals with loneliness and rejection. Although it does not offer much hope of comfort to young readers, the story of Ingemar Johansson helps to identify some of the questions that teenagers ask. It also presents a variety of emotional responses in a manner that does not judge what is “normal,” but instead simply acknowledges that growing up is a confusing and frustrating task that is often accomplished in spite of—rather than because of—the efforts of the young adult.
The novel illustrates the challenges that all teenagers must face, such as trying to fit in with and be accepted by one’s peers, dealing with sexual urges and temptations, recognizing and controlling anger, and developing relationships. For Ingemar, however, these challenges are even more difficult because of his mother’s untimely death and his father’s notable absence. In addition to the usual struggles of a thirteen-year-old, Ingemar must deal with grief and guilt, as well as a growing despair because nobody wants him.
In an effort to develop an identity for himself, Ingemar lives on the edge of reality, sometimes even unsure himself how he has come to be in the situations in which he finds himself. His attempts to comfort himself by reading about accidents and disasters and telling himself that he is better off than the people in the news raise the question of why children such as Ingemar are not...
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Written in the 1980’s, My Life as a Dog deals with social issues that were in the spotlight at that time. The book appeared in the United States in the late 1980’s, around the same time that the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic was gaining momentum. Even though sexual and health issues are not the main themes of the novel, his mother’s slow death and the theme of loneliness and separation touched a nerve with readers. Furthermore, Reidar Jönsson portrays a young adult who is forced to live without guidance from a caring adult. This seemed to be a recurring theme by the 1990’s, as more and more attention became focused on welfare reform and the cycle of poverty.
A critically acclaimed film version of My Life as a Dog was made by Lasse Hallström in 1985.