Prince of Afghanistan by Louis Nowra
Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781743314821
(Age: 13+) When an American sniffer dog dies, a young Australian Army handler and his dog are recruited to assist in the rescue of 3 hostages held in a remote location of Afghanistan. With the hostages safely on the chopper, Prince's handler, Casey, is killed by an Afghan rocket and the Doberman becomes his best mate's responsibility. Without food or water, the injured duo attempt to trek hundreds of miles back to base through an arid, war-torn landscape. Encounters with villagers, drug growers and the Taliban are interspersed with Mark's backstory in the rural town, where he and Casey grew up.
There's a few near misses, hairy escapes and some authentic military manoeuvres to keep us turning pages, but this is also a multi-layered novel exploring multiple issues such as drug abuse, the effects of war, terrorism, mateship, grief, family relationships and of course, the bond between man and dog.
Boys will love this fast-paced war story which is meaty enough to be read aloud and studied. In addition, Nowra's candour in describing Mark's own drug problem, will certainly resonate with teens.
While not a graphic novel, every chapter is ingeniously prefaced by a cinematic photograph to effectively orientate us and foreshadow each new action event. At the title suggests, every obstacle or issue is either resolved at a practical level or massaged, at least in part, by the symbiotic relationship and loyalty which develops between a man and his working dog. Perhaps the greatest writer of true homages to man's best friend, Gary Paulsen, should have written a foreword?
This is a powerful YA novel for the library shelves but a study guide for junior secondary students proves a bonanza with activities to engage the most reluctant class.