Good dog, good dog.

A Different DogA Different Dog by Paul Jennings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not your usual Paul Jennings fare.
Is it well written? Yes
Does it have characters your care about? Yes
Is it a page-turner? Yes
Is it hilarious and tinged with magic realism? Nope
Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not.
The boy (we do not learn his name) does not speak when in the company of other people. On his own, or with animals, he finds his voice. Rendered mute by the heavy burden of guilt about the death of his first dog, Deefer, the boy is a child who is suffering. The boy’s mother is out of work and she and her son live life on the poverty line. It is cold, it is bleak, but she loves her son.
Trying to win a race to climb a mountain for the $1000 prize, the boy witnesses a fatal car crash on the icy road. Inside the dead man’s van is a dog. The boy rescues the dog and names him Chase. When they are alone, the boy can talk freely to Chase. When he is carrying Chase from the wreck of the car, he tells him “You’re heavy, but you’re not a burden.” This is echoed when we read a flashback to when Deefer went missing and the boy’s mother carried him home. She says exactly the same thing. The ones we love can sometimes be hard to carry, but they are no burden.
I don’t want to populate this review with spoilers, but this story is full of important things. Love, sacrifice, guilt, courage, honesty, justice, persistence, resilience, and most important of all – hope.
This would be a lovely book to read aloud to a class of Year 3 or 4 students, but could also be used for older students too.

99 Flavours of Suck….didn’t (suck, that is)

99 Flavours of Suck99 Flavours of Suck by Tania Hutley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

99 Flavours of Suck certainly describes Kane’s life. His Mum is TV’s “dog whisperer” and he’s allergic to dogs – which he has to keep secret because if the TV bosses find out his Mum’s career is OVER. He fancies Pippa, but can’t talk to her for long periods because she has just bought a new puppy and converstaion with Pippa results in Kane becoming an itchy, wheezing mess.
Alternately told by Kane and Pippa, this is an unusual story, for sure. During the filming of a segment at the home of another dog trainer, the creepy Shep Silver, Kane receives a bite on the hand that will change his life forever.
Embarrassed on national television by a quirky turn of events (that I will not spoil here), Kane struggles to live his life and hold on to his friends. There is much to like here, particularly the way that Tania Hutley has her characters consider the true nature of love and friendship. I enjoyed the last third of the novel, as Kane tries to solve his problems, more than the preceeding chapters.
I will be watching to see what Tania Hutley writes next. I liked her writing style and her “real” characters in “unreal” situations.
Ages 12 and up.