This could have been written about me, the young witchlet. And for that reason, presumably also about many of you, and that will be why it appeals so much. Hilary McKay’s new book for Barrington Stoke is a sweet blend of loneliness and nature.
Jodie is new at school, and hasn’t made any friends. But she still has to go on the school’s trip to the field centre, staying overnight, sharing a room with five other girls, and not only has she got the ‘wrong’, new equipment, but the teacher she trusts is unable to come.
She ends up breaking the centre’s rules, partly because she needs to escape the other girls, and partly because there is this dog that keeps barking and she wants to find it, to help it. And then she gets stuck on the salt marshes.
She is so lonely, and so brave. She knows no one will come for her, no one will miss her. Or be able to find her.
This is a slightly supernatural tale of bravery, love and friendship. Not everything is as it seems.
Now is a poignant time to be reading a book set in the Ukraine. Especially one about Chernobyl, because the news is full of relevant stories about both the Ukraine and the awfulness of potential nuclear ‘problems.’ But Anthony McGowan couldn’t know this when he wrote Dogs of the Deadlands, his tale about what happened to the dogs left behind when the humans fled the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
I didn’t know how he would handle this plot, but I was sure it would be absolutely excellent. And I was right. It is. There are not many people I would trust to kill [fictional] dogs and wolves with such tenderness. Or even the odd human who happened to get in the way.
Starting to blub already. Sorry.
And I have to admit that like many people, I didn’t actually remember which part of the old Soviet Union Chernobyl was in. Just that it caused so much suffering to so many.
Dogs of the Deadlands introduces a new puppy as a seventh birthday present for Natasha. It’s what she always wanted. But then, as soon as her happiest moment has come, they have to leave, because of the nuclear meltdown. And no pets, not even cute puppies, can come. They were to be looked after, at first. Then to be put down. But this didn’t happen in all cases.
And it’s the ones that remained that we meet in this book. I would like to say it’s very realistic. But what do I know? Or, even, what does Tony actually know? It’s a fascinating premise and we meet so many interesting dogs and wolves, and a few other animals of the forest.
It’s not terribly vegetarian, if you get my drift. We want the animals to find food and not starve. But it’s not very appetising a lot of the time. They fight, and they struggle. There is friendship and lots of courage and cunning.