I’m back with another Paul Jennings new release today, courtesy of Allen & Unwin. A Different Dog felt like a big departure from Jennings’ typical work, despite the fact that the twist in the tale is still present. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
The gripping and surprising story of a boy, a dog and a daring rescue from the bestselling, much-loved author of the Don’t Look Now series and The Unforgettable What’s His Name.
The forest is dense and dark. And the trail full of unexpected perils. The dog can’t move. The boy can’t talk. And you won’t know why. Or where you are going. You will put this story down not wanting the journey to end.
But it’s from Paul Jennings so watch out for the ambush.
One of the best. From one of the best.
When you’ve read almost everything a particular author has written over many years and suddenly they do something with a story you don’t expect, it can be hard to measure it against your previous experiences of their work. So it was for me with this story. A Different Dog has a much more subdued and sombre tone that much of Jennings’ previous work and the magical realism that often colours his stories and provides the impetus for his famous twists in the tail of the tale is absent here. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – just different from what I would have expected.
The story revolves around a boy who has been a selective mute (or possibly an anxiety-induced mute) since a traumatic incident involving a beloved pet. He lives with his mother in livable poverty and is disconnected from peers due to his lack of speech. While on a mission to win a cash prize in a community fun run, the boy witnesses a vehicle accident and attempts to help – but instead ends up trying to find his way out of the hillside terrain accompanied by a highly unusual dog, who was a passenger in the crashed vehicle. Along the way home, the boy makes a number of life-changing discoveries…but his greatest challenge comes later when his friendship with the dog is tested by fate.
I quite enjoyed the subtleties of this story as a change from the wackier antics that embody Jennings’ usual fare. Even though it is a reasonably short read, this felt more like a story for older readers who could appreciate the themes of grief, guilt and shame that ring-fence the boy’s image of himself. There is a pointedness in the story relating to the cruelty of others, whether between humans or from humans directed at animals, and this left me with a bit of a sense of the sinister when I think back to the story.
On the whole, I think I prefer Jennings’ lighter works but A Different Dog is a thought-provoking read that uses a remarkably small word count to effectively raise questions about ethics, choices and making recompense for past mistakes. This would be a great choice for reluctant young adult readers or those who require high-interest, low reading level tales for struggling older readers.
Until next time,