Review Blog

May 01 2015

The dogs by Allan Stratton

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Penguin Books, 2015. ISBN 9780143572596
(Age: 13+) Child abuse. Family breakdown. Truth in relationships. Mental health. Imagination. Ghosts. Horror. Local history. Displacement. Cameron and his mother are on the run from his dad who is violent... or is he? Is Cameron's mum paranoid, imagining pursuit and the abuse? Leaving schools and friends behind has for five years been part of Cameron's life and this time they move to the small Canadian town of Wolf Hollow, renting a creepy old farmhouse straight out of a horror movie, or Cameron's favourite computer game 'Zombie attack', complete with a nailed-up attic, a dark cellar and a legendary ghost. At school Cameron soon finds out that the previous occupant of the house was killed and eaten by his dogs. He is taunted and bullied so he retreats into his own lonely world. When he finds a child's drawings in the cellar suggesting an abusive father he sets out to find out more about them. His research reveals a hidden murder which has haunted the community for years. In Wolf Hollow, Cameron's mother finds a good job and a caring relationship with Ken, her boss, who is sensitive to Cameron's situation and they are both very supportive. Cameron blocks out bad times and worries that he will become like his father, a conflict which affects his mental health as well as his ability to form relationships. Is he imagining things or is there really a ghost boy looking out for him? Cameron misses his Dad and eventually makes contact with him with disastrous results. The denouement is horrific but quick, concentrating on positive outcomes, vindication and the cleansing effect of the truth. Allan Stratton has previously taken on some tough issues like rape and terrorism in Chanda's secrets and Borderline; here he looks at the repercussions when a child is fearful of a parent.
An intelligent and readable story, the first person narrative allows us insight into a vulnerable, yet brave and determined boy's world that middle school students would find engaging with much to identify with.
Sue Speck

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