Monthly Archives: February 2020

Dogchild by Kevin Brooks

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Dogchild by Kevin Brooks
Candlewick, June 2020

Ravaged by climate change and other environmental and manmade disasters, two groups of humans, possibly the last left on earth, battle for supremacy. But there are also packs of dogs in Deathlands which steal babies from the humans and bring them up as “ dogchilds.” Jeet, raised by dogs and later rescued and “rehumanized” by one of the clans and has been asked by the Marshal of the settlement to record the story of the coming final battle. 

Initially Jeet’s idiosyncratic narrative records everyday life (he has a wide vocabulary but no apostrophes, so “I’d” becomes “Ide.” Youde not be surprised at how irritating this quickly becomes) and he shows the reader a world akin to that of the early pioneers, in which scarcity is ubiquitous and ingenuity is vital. As the humans are mostly just interested in survival they have little use for reading and writing, and Jeet soon realizes that “truth is all gone” and there is no history; the present is all there is and all there ever has been. There are some clues for curious readers – I wondered if the glassrock of the Deathlands could be obsidian from a volcano or maybe Trinitite from a nuclear explosion. 

Jeet is sent on a mission to the rival Dau camp and forms a bond with Chola Se, another rehumanized dogchild. As it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, Jeet and Chola Se use their dog sense to puzzle out what’s really going on and form a strong bond. They come to understand that both clans of humans will always see them as outsiders and scapegoats and that they feel more accepted by their dog packs than the human world. As the final battle commences, the “dogchilds” have to decide where their loyalties lie. 

Though Brooks (The Bunker Diary, Carolrhoda, 2015) deftly explores ideas of identity and what it means to be human, the vehicle he uses is unnecessarily overlong (471 pages) making it ponderous and unwieldy.

Thanks to Candlewick for the ARC.

Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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So it’s been quite a while since I posted and I’ve been enjoying the break. I re-read the Harry Potter series which was wonderful, read some novels for adults, and even read some YA novels. It was very relaxing to just read a book without having to keep notes or write a thoughtful review. But I’m back now, at least for a while. I’ve got several reviews ready to go, so there will be one a week at least for the next couple of months, and then I’ll see how I feel after that.

Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic, October 2019.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been a long-time fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen, but I feel like I might be coming to an end with her. I did not enjoy a previous historical novel, A Night Divided as much as many, and, in terms of her fantasy novels though I thought The Scourge was excellent, I wasn’t a fan of The Traitor’s Game and didn’t bother with the sequel. However, I was given this book to review and though I loved the idea of it, I didn’t love the execution so much.

In late 19th century Russian-occupied Lithuania, the Lithuanian language, both spoken and written, is banned in an attempt to erase the country and assimilate it into the Motherland.

When 12-year old Audra’s parents are arrested for the crime of book smuggling, Audra joins the resistance, bringing Lithuanian books in from Prussia and distributing them to patriots. As Audra begins to understand how Lithuanian words are their freedom, she realizes how vital her network is to keeping that idea alive.

In tense and exciting sequences, she and Lukas, a boy of her own age, take daring risks to keep the supply of books flowing while being pursued by Cossack soldiers. Though Audra is initially scared and clueless, she credibly gains confidence when she realizes that the magic tricks her father taught her can be used to outwit their enemies.

The prose, plot, and characterization never rise above workmanlike in their service to the fascinating central idea of using language to control the narrative: what can’t be said, can’t be thought. Though Nielsen brings this little-known piece of history to life through Audra, the book lacks further information and resources about the Lithuanian freedom fighters and book smugglers.