A common thread runs through Jennifer Finney Boylan’s rich and varied body of work: the malleability of identity and the nature of change. With perhaps her best-known book, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, she opened a window into the trans experience, using her own life as an example.

In her newest book, Good Boy, she considers the stages of her pre-transition life—from childhood to her 40s—organized by the dogs she lived with during those years. “My days have been numbered in dogs,” she says in the introduction, then goes on to describe both the dogs and the days, starting with Playboy, an unreliably housetrained Dalmatian who adored her father and caused the rest of the family great embarrassment.

The author’s portraits of Playboy and the other six members of the canine cast have a ring of truth to them. The dogs, however, are relatively minor elements of the…

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