Denali

by Ben Moon

“During my cancer treatments, I received immense support from the community, but because I rarely had energy to socialize face-to-face in the days following the chemo infusions, Denali was my pillar. He stood by me throughout the entirety of the journey, propping me up with steady support I desperately needed but could not ask for from another human. Never weary of giving, Denali offered his love freely, never asking anything in return.”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: B-

I love dogs and I love a good dog book. Denali checked many of the boxes – a sweet dog is rescued by an outdoor enthusiast and the two forge a strong bond that allows them to overcome numerous obstacles – but there was something missing. It was evident that Moon is not a writer by nature, but even after overlooking that, I found myself wanting more.

I so appreciated the outdoor adventures and the local scenes described; living in the Pacific Northwest, I felt like the story was in my backyard. It was endearing hearing how Denali helped Ben get through a divorce, loneliness, cancer, and uncertainty by being a loyal and loving canine companion. The focus, however, seemed to be too much on Ben. Ben was incredibly introspective – often repeating themes throughout the story in order to emphasize how they echoed in his thoughts and habits – but after a while, it felt like I was hearing more about him (and his struggles) than about Denali and the authentic bond between the two. Yes, Denali was woven into many of the stories, but largely the book focused on Ben’s growth and struggles, not the healing bond and friendship I had expected.

I suppose what I wanted from this memoir was the true story of a dog and his owner, and the friendship that saved them – much as the title suggests. Instead, I got a memoir that focuses on the author’s struggles, his search for self, and the dog that was along for the ride. In the end, I enjoyed it, but realized that I liked the short film of the same name so much more.

Movie Rating: R

Denali is a memoir about Ben’s experiences and his sweet dog that journeyed with him. Given the nature of Ben’s struggles – divorce, cancer, isolation, financial woes, and failed relationships – it is understandable that there would be some difficult scenes and foul language. What surprised me was his open and repeated use of psychedelics throughout the book. He has ceremonies where he will consume them and then have “revelations” that help him to purge of his past. He even encourages friends to do it. This, to me, didn’t have a place in what I had hoped would be a sweet story about a dog and his owner. Ben’s own multiple relationships (and the in-depth discussions of them) brought unnecessary baggage to the story that resulted in a book that is not ideal for younger readers. Additionally, the repeated celebrities whose names pepper the book often have weird cameos that might be startling to some.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Probably Not

I was absolutely charmed by the short film, Denali, and had high hopes that this book would be a total winner. Unfortunately, given that the author seems to be having an early-forties reminiscence on his humble beginnings in the adventure world and sharing stories of the sweet dog that accompanied him, I doubt most of my high schoolers would be able to relate. While Moon is known in the adventure world, this book dives too deeply into the personal demons that haunted him in his younger years and might be interpreted as self-deprecating and pitying rather than an inspiring story of Denali. Overall, I think that skipping this will prevent a book from gathering dust, and recommending some of the other books I suggest here or sharing the short film Denali with them might lead to a bigger win.

Summary:

Ben Moon is now a well known photographer and filmmaker in the outdoor adventure world, but before he was a household name, he was the beloved owner of Denali, a sweet husky-pit bull rescue dog. Denali: A Man, a Dog, and the Friendship of a Lifetime is the touching story of Ben’s bond with his dog, but also a memoir of the pair’s battles with the same cancer in quick succession.

Ben, an avid outdoor adventurer had a sweet and special bond with Denali. This precious dog helped Ben through a divorce and depression, and is his constant companion with all of his climbs and camp outs. At age 29, though, after a series of ominous signs, Ben is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and relies on the unwavering love and attention of Denali to get through chemo and adjust to his new life with a colostomy. Denali is the most loyal dog and his quirky personality make him an endearing and larger-than-life character. Thus, when he is stricken with the same disease that Ben had, Ben is by his side to help Denali however he can. This sweet and honest story focuses on the power of one dog and the bond that was forged with his owner.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. Describe Denali’s personality. What made him an ideal pet for Ben (especially considering Ben’s hobbies and lifestyle)?
  2. How did Ben discover that he had cancer? What does he learn about this type of cancer of the next several years?
  3. Ben’s active lifestyle did not always make wearing a stoma easy. Explain some of the challenges that he had to overcome.
  4. Why was Ben reluctant to have Denali’s leg amputated? When did he realize how much Denali was suffering?
  5. How does Nori serve as a source of comfort now? How are she and Denali different?

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • Finding Gobi by Dion Leondard
  • Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls by Jim Gorant
  • Walking with Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life by Eric O’Grey
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