Kid Lit Review of “Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship” by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes

The Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 was a terrorist attack that took place near the finish line of the race on April 15, 2013. Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured.

Jessica Kensky was an oncology nurse, marathon runner, and newlywed in 2013. For the Boston Marathon race that year, she was only a spectator, but was standing at the wrong place at the wrong time; she lost both her legs in the bombing. Her new husband, Patrick Downes, standing next to her, lost his left leg from the blast. As “The Washington Post” reported:

“The aftermath brought so many surgeries they lost count. They lived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for three years. Kensky . . . said there were times she felt she could not go on. Life seemed to consist mostly of preparing for surgeries, having surgeries and recovering from surgeries.”

Jessica was worried about how she would do things on her own, but when she met the service dog of a visitor, she applied for her own that very day.

In alternating pages, we hear from Rescue, a pup who came from a family of service animals, but they were all guide dogs for the blind. Rescue was worried about filling a different role for someone, not wanting to let anyone down.

When Jessica and Rescue met, however, it was mutual love at first sight. They began to work together, doing chores, playing, and best of all, snuggling. Jessica recovered in ways she had never thought possible. Jessica told Rescue: “You changed my life, Rescue… I couldn’t have done this without you.”

“You rescued me, Rescue,” said Jessica. But, as the book points out, “the truth was, they had rescued each other.”

Jessica got her dog from NEADS, a service dog organization in Massachusetts. On their blog, you can read about them and how to get involved. You will also learn that Rescue is now an “uncle,” and you can get updates on the puppies.

The illustrator, Scott Magoon, was running in the Boston Marathon the day of the bombing, and suffered emotionally since that time. His artwork is a marvel, showing the different emotional states of the dog Rescue just as convincingly as those of the people in the story. The pictures show hospital rooms, wheelchairs and prosthetics, but also parks, scenes of playing, and walks through beautiful Boston. You will fall in love with Jessica, Patrick, and Rescue, in part thanks to the warmth of Magoon’s pictures.

Magoon’s touching remembrance of the day of the bombing, posted on his blog, is worth quoting at length:

“This book is perhaps the most personal work I’ve ever done, closely connecting personal experience, work and love for the city of Boston. I was running the 2013 Boston Marathon as an unofficial (or ‘bandit’) runner on Boylston Street when the first bomb exploded in front of me. 12 seconds later, the second bomb detonated behind me. I felt the concussion wave on my back, my ears rang and then, all around—pandemonium. Panic in my heart—I knew my wife and two boys (ages 8 & 6 at the time) had made their way to Boylston Street’s finish line and were somewhere nearby waiting to watch me pass. Where were they? Were they ok? As I abandoned the course, my iPhone rang—it was Christy to say they all were ok. Thank God.  We met several very tense minutes later, shaken but relieved to be reunited. Unlike so many around us—like Patrick and Jessica—we escaped physical injury but I struggled with post traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath.”

Evaluation: This is an utterly charming, heart-warming book that puts a positive spin on a terrible tragedy. The story shows not only what it is like to have disabilities, but what a service dog can bring to the equation. As Magoon said in a blog post, “there’s always some light at the end of the tunnel, somewhere.” This book demonstrates that optimism. It is suggested for ages 5 to 9, but I would reclassify it to “5 and above.” Jim and I both loved it.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2018

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4 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Rescue & Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship” by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes

  1. Mae Sander says:

    What a horrifying subject for a picture book! You make it sound as if the author has done it with tact and imagination.

    best… mae at

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    That book looks and sounds marvelous. I’ve read books about service dogs and what they do and they rescue many people.

  3. Beth F says:

    Wow what super idea for a children’s book. So many great messages. Service dogs can change people’s lives

  4. This sounds like a really sweet book!

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