Book Review: Girl with a White Dog, by Anne Booth, Catnip Press, 2014. Reviewed by Maurice Billingsley.
When my brothers and I were growing up we had a story-telling game; you might call it ‘And Then.’ Disaster upon disaster would descend upon the hapless hero, who starts off peaceably going about his business: ‘He’s cycling up the hill, when a wolf jumps out of the bushes and pulls him off his bike,’ ‘And then the police come along and arrest him for blocking the highway,’ ‘And then …’ ‘And then …’
Do girls play such games? Do they help young people to grow up into well-rounded human beings, able to treat triumph and disaster just the same? Anne Booth clearly thinks so.
Jess, her thirteen-year-old protagonist, finds life disrupted by a series of events that would feel disastrous to many an adult, let alone a teenager. Her father’s unemployment, her aunt and uncle’s divorce; school bullies conspiring with her cousin to make life purgatorial for Jess and her friends; tensions between locals and Central European workers, and I haven’t even mentioned her grandmother and the white dog: Booth sets out to entertain her young audience with ‘And then …’ ‘And then …’ ‘And then …’
This is no Lemony Snicket fantasy; Booth’s style is realistic. Jess has loving parents and a beloved grandmother, but the old lady is another worry, as she seems to be losing her memory at the same time as half recalling and half trying to hide episodes from her past. Jess’s life spins more and more out of control when the old lady gets herself a white German Shepherd puppy, then promptly falls ill.
Grandmother and her dog provide a key to this story which challenges intolerance, at an age when young people may still be forming their views and be receptive to challenging ideas. Certainly Jess comes across many manifestations of intolerance in her village and school, often coupled with the sort of bullying and closed minds that are difficult to challenge.
Anne Booth is concerned that what happened then – in 1930s Europe – could be happening now, in 21st Century Britain. But as the story unfolds, there is hope – hope for Jess and her friends, for her cousin and her grandmother; Booth’s readers are not offered an easy happy ending; instead they are shown that no girl is an island, but can, as part of a community, make a difference to her own and others’ lives.
This review first appeared in Independent Catholic News: http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=25927