Meandering through Middle Grade: A Different Dog…

2

meandering-through-middle-grade

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.

a different dog

A Different Dog by Paul Jennings.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th April 2017.  RRP: $14.99

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,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Gritty UKYA” Edition…

2

image

Pull out your best Round-Up hat, because today’s three UK YA titles are ones that you will be wanting to chase down.  We received copies of today’s books from Allen & Unwin for review.  Keep your eyes open my friends, we’ve got some live ones here!

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

bad apple

Bad Apple (Matt Whyman) Published by Bonnier, 25th May 2016.  RRP: $16.99

When Maurice goes on a school trip to observe “trolls” in their settlement for his modern history class, he doesn’t expect to get quite so “up close and personal” with the inhabitants. When he discovers what is going on in the settlements, Maurice decides to risk doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and in doing so, blurs the boundaries between troll and human behaviours.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is one road-trip that bumps along apace and while it doesn’t take itself too seriously, still manages to raise some questions about the labels that we put on each other.  The first few chapters, in which we discover the origin of the under-dwelling trolls, are particularly engaging and the pace never slows enough to register any lag.  Maurice, Cindy and Wretch (not to mention Governor Shores) all have obvious flaws and strengths, which helps to drive the philosophical question about who should be classed a troll and who shouldn’t.  There is a certain sense of the ridiculous laced throughout the main trio’s antics, but the story is so fun and fast that there’s not enough time to dwell on whether or not the happenings are believable.  I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Whyman’s work after this – the absorbing but flippant narrative style really appeals to my sense of humour and I love a story in which fantasy or speculative elements are seamlessly inserted into an otherwise rather ordinary setting.  This is the sort of YA book that would certainly also appeal to adults who appreciate oddity in writing, as well as adult characters who would remind them strongly of the mix of enemies and allies that appear in any workplace.  I recommend this one for those looking for a quirky, fun change of pace with a thought-provoking twist.

Brand it with:

Notes from the underground, genetic testing, born to be wild

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie)

 

the fix

The Fix (Sophie McKenzie) Pulished by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016.  RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Blake is a star striker on his football team, but at home his mum is struggling to pay the rent.  When Blake is offered the opportunity to earn some money by deliberately throwing his next match, it seems like the solution to Blake’s rent problem is right in front of him.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this book is touted as “super-readable” by a helpful sticker on the back, and as a “low reading level, high interest” book, it is a great choice for struggling or reluctant readers in the YA bracket who prefer shorter reads that get straight to the action.  This book is easily read in one or two sittings, with no unnecessary segues into side plots that might lessen the interest of the story overall.  The characters are quite two-dimensional, given the short word count, but there is plenty of action to ensure the reader stays engaged.  The book starts with a botched getaway attempt from a midnight kick-around session in Blake’s city’s brand new football stadium, and from that point on, Blake is forced to make some hard decisions over where his loyalties lie.  As it is so short, it’s hard to drum up too much excitement over having read this book, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to pitch a tale of high interest to YA readers at an easily accessible reading level for those in the target age group.

Brand it with:

Money for nothing, divided loyalties, pacey reads

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks)

 

johnny delgado

Johnny Delgado (Kevin Brooks) Published by Faber Factory Plus (FfP), 25th May 2016 RRP: $13.99

 

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Johnny lives in North Tower of the estate with his mum, after his dad – a policeman – was killed in a botched drug raid.  Hoping to make it as a private detective, Johnny will stop at nothing to find out the truth, particularly when it involves his family, but in doing so, will put those he loves in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…for a high interest/low reading level YA offering, this is a remarkably engaging and suspenseful book.  Despite this not being my particular preference for content in YA contemporary, I will admit to being riveted by Johnny’s story because it is action-packed from beginning to end.  This bind-up includes the first two stories in what has previously been published as two separate books – Johnny Delgado: Private Detective and Johnny Delgado: Like Father, Like Son – and despite the reasonably naff titles of those two books, the stories are actually aimed at readers of YA who can handle mature themes such as drug use, gang warfare and urban poverty.  The stories don’t shy away from the overbearing sense of despair and entrapment in the poverty cycle that pervades the estate in which Johnny lives, and the writing brings to life the depressing conditions of council house tenants living cheek by jowl.  The characters are, for the most part, authentic representations of the kinds of folk who might populate such an estate and Johnny himself is believable as a young man driven to discover the truth behind his father’s death.  The vivid action and, dare I say, believable violence contained in the stories will no doubt be a drawcard for reluctant male readers, but overall I would recommend having a look at this series simply for the exciting narrative style, suspenseful action and graphic depictions of urban life in a rough locale.

Brand it with:

Is that a gun in your pocket?, stairs or lift?, urban jungle

Have you mentally grabbed one of these books and stuffed it in your proverbial tucker bag yet?

Until next time,

Bruce