43 pages 1 hour read

McCall Hoyle


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Stella is a middle grade novel written by McCall Hoyle and published in 2021. The book is a work of fiction told from the first-person perspective of Stella, a beagle. When the novel opens, Stella is traumatized because she, a bomb-sniffing dog, failed to alert her handler to explosives, and her handler died in an explosion. Stella is quite fearful of loud noises and is about to be euthanized during the first chapters. She slowly overcomes her trauma with the help of a young girl named Cloe, and she learns lessons about forgiveness and courage along the way.

McCall Hoyle has written numerous young adult and middle grade novels, and Stella is a book she wrote to help children build empathy. Stella won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award and has been nominated for over a dozen awards.

This study guide refers to the 2021 Shadow Mountain Kindle edition of the novel.

Plot Summary

Before the novel begins, Stella was working as a bomb-sniffing dog helping her handler, Connie, find explosives in airports. She is good at her job, and Connie always tells her that she is a good dog. On the day before Thanksgiving one year, Stella had been working for a long time and was hungry and tired. She started to get a whiff of explosives but got distracted when a door opened and temporarily altered the scents. In that split second of confusion, a bomb went off, and Connie died.

Stella does not know that Connie has died, however. At the beginning of the novel, she is with a new human, Diana. Diana likes pets, but she does not understand how to help Stella deal with her trauma. As such, she treats her in ways that make Stella misbehave out of fear. Diana feels bad that she cannot help Stella, but she returns the dog to the canine facility from which she got her. When Stella gets to the facility, everyone is sad, and Stella is about to be euthanized when Esperanza comes in. Esperanza was friends with Connie many years prior, and she understands working dogs. She decides to try to rehabilitate Stella.

The first thing Esperanza does is to take Stella to Connie’s grave. Up until this point, Stella had not realized that Connie is dead. She just knows that the two are separated, and she wants to return to Connie. Stella is quickly able to sniff out Connie’s grave, and it is at this point that she realizes Connie is dead. Esperanza takes Connie home to her daughter, Cloe. Esperanza is careful to warn Cloe that Stella may not be able to stay because Esperanza may not be able to rehabilitate her, and if she cannot, it would not be fair to Stella to keep her in misery. Stella is put in a feed room to sleep with a cat, Oscar, and Esperanza’s dog, Nando. Stella is the only one in a crate.

Cloe falls in love with Stella quickly. She plays with her and cuddles her. She works with her to help build up her confidence, and she teaches her new tricks. One of these tricks is to sniff out food in boxes, which Stella does very easily. Cloe works with Stella to walk across a teeter-totter, but this scares Stella because the teeter-totter makes a loud noise when it hits the ground. Cloe is careful to push Stella to confront her fears but also not to push her so far that she gets overwhelmed. It takes the entire novel for Stella to get over her fear of the teeter-totter.

One day Esperanza and Cloe take Stella to a hardware store. There they come across a neighbor named Vern. Vern warns Esperanza and Cloe that his nephews are coming and that the nephews will be shooting squirrels. He tells them to keep their animals on their property or they could get shot. He is not a friendly man. Meanwhile, Stella starts to realize that Cloe’s vinegar smell, which she has noticed from the beginning of their relationship, has begun to get stronger. She does not know what is wrong, but she tries to warn Esperanza and Cloe. Esperanza and Cloe do not understand the warning signals that Connie taught Stella, so they do not understand that there is any danger. The three make their way to the car and Cloe, who has epilepsy, falls to the ground and has a seizure. Stella stays as close to Cloe as she can. When they get home, Esperanza takes Cloe to her room and then locks Stella in her crate. Stella realizes, however, that she can undo the lock, and she runs to the door to check on Cloe.

One day Cloe takes Stella out to a creek, and the two relax together. Suddenly, however, Stella smells gunpowder and boys as well as the blood of a squirrel. She tries to warn Cloe, but Cloe still does not understand these warnings. Vern’s nephews come and threaten Cloe and the two leave. Believing the nephews have left town, Stella and Cloe return to the area on another day. Again Stella smells the danger but cannot alert Cloe. The two boys arrive with firecrackers, even though there is a forest fire warning in the area. They throw the firecrackers at Cloe and Stella repeatedly. Stella does her best to stay strong and stay with Cloe, but eventually her fear overcomes her, and she runs. When she falls on a rock in the creek, she hears Connie’s voice telling her that she is a good dog and that she is capable of doing things she thinks she cannot do. This gives Stella courage. She runs back to the house, hoping that Cloe went home. Cloe is not there, however, and there are many working dogs and police officers ready to go search for Cloe. Esperanza locks Stella up and goes out to search, but Stella again lets herself out of the crate and goes with Nando to go find Cloe. They eventually find her in the woods as the fire burns. She has had a seizure and is lying on the ground. The dogs drag her to a slightly safer spot and start barking. The working dogs and their handlers find them, and Cloe is brought to safety.

One of the police officers tells Esperanza that Stella’s behavior reminds her of a seizure-sniffing dog she once saw, and Esperanza, for the first time, looks deeply at Stella. She realizes that Stella is able to smell Cloe’s seizures and was trying to warn her of them at the hardware store. Cloe regains her strength, and she asks Esperanza if Stella can be a house dog. Esperanza agrees, and Stella gets to live inside the house with Cloe, and both are very happy.

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