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“It’s just a bad dog. Bad in its mind, in its soul,” Nurse Becca. –Red Rover

Red Rover

by Christopher Krovatin
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On a car ride back from the beach, sixth grader Amy Tanner notices something strange by the side of the road. It’s a blindfolded dog, muzzled with duct tape. He’s tied to a post with a rusty chain. Concerned for the dog’s safety, Amy quickly convinces her parents to pull over, and the family frees this mystery dog, who they suddenly feel compelled to name Rover. Before long, Rover has charmed his way into the Tanner family home. He especially bonds with Amy’s younger sister, Katie, who seems to hear Rover’s thoughts in her head. 

Despite the Tanners’ excitement about having a new dog, Amy begins to notice unusual things happening around Rover. Electronics malfunction. Pets and humans that he dislikes freeze, wide-eyed, as if possessed. And, when Rover is forced to attend the school science fair against his will, a gory “accident” occurs, leaving the rats of a rival project dead. It slowly becomes clear that Rover has strange psychic abilities. Even Amy’s ever-logical parents begin to see that something is wrong.  

The Tanners attempt to tame their dog and, when that doesn’t work, to drop him off at a shelter, but they are unsuccessful. Eventually, Amy is left with no choice but to track down Rover’s previous owners and figure out how they were able to free themselves from this creature. This journey is how Amy meets the grizzled diva Miss Dola, who helps Amy and her family perform a ritual to weaken Rover. After a dramatic confrontation, they are able to drop him into the sea. He sinks to the bottom, gone for good. Or is he? 

A key theme in Red Rover is dealing with bullies. A girl from school named Valerie Starr frequently makes fun of Amy, and Amy draws a direct comparison between this rival and Rover. In the latter half of the book, Amy is willing to do almost anything in her power to spend less time around her dog. She relishes her hours at school. She goes on walks. She spends extra time in the bathroom. “Anything that took time out of her morning, she was good at. Anything to keep her up here, on the second floor, away from him.” Amy, for her part, dislikes the person that she’s become. Once a dog-lover, she now catches herself hoping for Rover’s downfall, a relatable struggle for anyone who’s endured bullying. She just wants to be free.  

Because Red Rover is told entirely from Amy’s perspective, frustration and fear are also key elements of the plot. While Katie blindly adores Rover and their science-minded parents don’t even consider psychic powers a possibility, Amy picks up on Rover’s sinister energy almost from the beginning. As the novel progresses, Amy becomes more and more frightened of Rover. This fear is what drives the plot forward and initially puts Amy at odds with her family. Readers will share Amy’s terror as suspense slowly builds, until the final confrontation at the end of the book where Amy’s “sharp, unspeakable terror curdle[s] into rage” and she must defend her younger sister from Rover’s attack. 

Although Red Rover is a bit slow at times, the story of a girl who lives in fear in her own home will resonate to any child who has had to deal with a bully, especially one that they seemingly can’t escape. With believable characters and a strong final act, Red Rover presents a powerful narrative about standing up for yourself, protecting the people you care about, and following your gut even when no one else believes you.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 


  • When Amy and her family first encounter Rover, he is tied to a fence by the side of the road and has visibly been mistreated. A rusty chain is “looped tightly around [Rover’s] neck and clasped with a padlock,” and a dirty rag is “tied tight over the dog’s eyes.” Additionally, a “thick loop of duct tape” is “wrapped around [his] muzzle, holding [his] mouth shut.” 
  • A tall girl confronts Amy and demands that she hand over her ice cream money. Amy wishes she had the courage to “shove” the girl aside or “[throw] a punch.” The confrontation ends nonviolently when the tall girl looks Rover in the eyes and suddenly “lurche[s] forward” and “vomit[s] across the concrete.” 
  • When Amy brings Rover to the science fair, he becomes agitated and launches a telekinetic attack against the rats from a different project’s terrarium. The rats begin “slamming their bodies against the sides of their plastic cage, shrieking as they [throttle] themselves back and forth, back and forth.” The inside of the plastic terrarium rapidly becomes “smeared with blood.” 
  • Amy has a dream of Rover’s face “rotting away, revealing a skull.” 
  • While at a sleepover, Amy learns that her father just “fell and hit his head on the kitchen floor” and that there was “blood everywhere.” It is implied that Rover is responsible for the accident. 
  • Rover lures the family’s other dog, Stormy, into the street, and Amy jumps in front of a car trying to save him. Amy gets Stormy safely to the curb, but the car bumper “punche[s]” Amy in the side. She then “[flies] to the asphalt, rolling over twice and feeling the grit of the road beneath her scrape her elbows and knuckles raw.” 
  • While on a drive, Amy sticks her head out of the window and Rover tries to roll up the window “like a slow guillotine.” Amy is able to pull her head back inside just in time. 
  • Amy and her family attempt to drop Rover off at a shelter, but he escapes and returns home. Upon calling the shelter, they learn that the animals there “all just died at once.” It is implied that Rover used his powers to kill them. 
  • Rover attacks a professional dog whisperer by psychically throwing him through an exploded window. The dog whisperer lands in glass and sustains “dozens of cuts on his exposed arms and face.” 
  • Rover uses an “invisible force” to choke Amy, but he is distracted when Amy’s younger sister offers to feed him Greek honey cake. 
  • Amy burns out one of Rover’s eyes with a stick of sage, and the wound is described as “oozing a thick black liquid that sizzled as it hit the floor.” 
  • During a final confrontation, Rover throws furniture, pets, and family members around the house with his mind. He corners Amy and her sister in the attic, but before he is able to attack, Miss Dola appears and “stab[s] all three syringes down into the back of the dog’s neck.” This immobilizes Rover and they are able to lock the creature in a cage, which they eventually push into the sea.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 


  • Amy mentally refers to herself as a “weak little idiot” when she hesitates to defend herself against a bully. 
  • In a fit of rage, Amy calls her younger sister a “brat.” 
  • A boy calls his brother a “dingus.” 


  • Rover possesses psychic abilities, which are slowly revealed over the course of the book. He is able to control electronics, move things with his mind, and even psychically kill other creatures. 
  • The family employs a supernatural ritual in order to break the bond between Rover and Katie. The ritual involves a string of leaves, three black candles, three medical syringes filled with a clear liquid, a “small black book with a gold triangle on the cover,” and a slice of Greek honey cake. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Miss Dola believes that Rover may be an incarnation of the three-headed canine beast Cerberus, a figure from Greek mythology. 
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“It’s just a bad dog. Bad in its mind, in its soul,” Nurse Becca. –Red Rover

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