The dogs by Allan Stratton
Penguin, 2015. ISBN 978014357296
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Child abuse. Domestic violence. Bullying. Crime. When Cameron hears the stories at his new school about the person in his house torn apart by a pack of dogs, he begins to hear them, but investigating his new surrounds further, he finds children's drawings in the cellar and he begins to hear the voice of missing child, Jacky. Cameron and his mother have moved again. She has seen his father's car parked near their house, and felt the fear creep back in. This small town is a new start, her job one where she has not had to give employment history or reasons for her moves, and the rent on the small farmhouse is cheap.
But Cameron must deal with the school bullies, intent on intimidating him, using the history of his house as a control. While Mum is becoming warmer towards the real estate agent for whom she works, Cameron mistrusts him and despite all his attempts, repels the advances he makes to smooth the water between them. The farmer next door drops hints about the boy, Jacky, once his best friend, and his presence causes Cameron a great deal of concern. But Cameron keeps on investigating, led on by the voice of Jacky showing him places where the truth may lie. A school project on the history of the farm proves an ideal subterfuge to his delving, and when he is suspended from school, he researches the history in the local newspaper and the real estate agent is able to provide other information about the farm and who owns it.
All comes together in a very neatly plotted ending, where the father eventually catches up with his family, using Facebook as a tracking device, with the stories of abuse in the past colliding with Cameron and his family, using the bullies from school as the link. This story of domestic violence, at once shocking and violent is easily read and will appeal to many lower secondary readers. The setting is a part of the furniture of the novel and Stratton uses it to mould the characters, none of whom is one dimensional. I particularly enjoyed the build up of tension about those people around Cameron. Who do we trust? And I was pleased that the relationship his mother forms with her boss is born out of their past unhappiness and Cameron is included in the decisions. Not all people who pursue single mothers are suspicious.