Intruder by Christine Bongers

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Woolshed Press, 2014. ISBN 9780857983763.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Kat Jones is woken up by an intruder looming over her bed. Her father Jimmy, works nights and she is alone in the house. She screams and is saved by her neighbour, Edwina, the one woman who Kat intensely dislikes because she believes that Edwina betrayed her mother when she was dying from cancer. Kat's father insists that either she goes and spends the nights next door with the woman she hates or accepts Hercules, a very ugly dog, to guard her. Even though she is terrified of dogs, she decides that that is her only option. Then she meets Al, a new boy in the neighbourhood, at the dog exercise park and things begin to look up.
Although from the title and the opening chapters, this book would appear to be a thriller, it is much more than that. It is a complex and exciting story about the relationships that people have and the secrets that they keep from one another. It is the story of a difficult and grieving young girl coming of age and gradually beginning to understand what is happening around her. It is filled with intriguing characters whose actions and personalities keep the reader wondering about their motivations right until the end of the story. Why does Jimmy, Kat's father work at nights when it could mean that Social Services could take her from him when they find out that she was alone? Why does Kat hate Edwina so much? Why was Al, who is such a likeable character, forced to leave his last school? Who is the intruder? Gradually things are revealed by Bongers until the final unforeseen unveiling of many of the mysteries that are so absorbing.
Dog lovers will enjoy the training of Hercules, the very ugly but loveable dog. Herc gradually wins Kat over and helps to allay her deep-set fear of dogs, making readers come to the realisation that some fears can be overcome with patience and help. Al too provides Kat with a new look at what is happening around her and helps her to face things with a new maturity as she and her father begin to come to grips with her mother's death. Kat has to learn to move on from the past and find a way to live happily with the people who love her.
Big themes like death, friendship, parenting, bullying and intruders are dealt with sensitively in this compelling book. Readers who enjoy it could move onto books by Fiona Wood and Cath Crowley.
Pat Pledger