Unexpectedly witnessing the aftermath of a fatal road accident presents the main character in this story with big problems; how will he call for help when he can’t speak and what will he do about the dead driver’s strange dog? Referred to throughout only as ‘The boy’ he is desperate to help the dog and desperate also for a dog of his own since the loss of his own beloved Deefer years before. Gradually the boy’s story is revealed, we find out about his mother’s struggle with money and that it was the boy’s own fault he lost his beloved Deefer, his fault that after releasing him Deefer killed a neighbour’s pets. Since then the boy has been unable to speak to another human about what happened or indeed about anything, only speaking to himself or to animals. Now he has found a new dog to care for and he decides to take him home. A perilous journey follows during which the boy discovers this is no ordinary dog; it is a performing dog with a repertoire of tricks in response to key orders. Others are searching for the missing dog and he is recognised by an unkind group of classmates who torment and exhaust the dog by making him constantly perform his tricks. Eventually the boy and dog reach home and he finds his voice in order to claim the dog as his own and he teaches the dog, now named Chase to ‘unlearn’ his tricks. The beginning of a new life together.
A well-crafted short novel with an unusual story from highly acclaimed Australian writer Paul Jennings. This would be a great independent read for children in upper key stage two or lower secondary and a great book to prompt discussion too, exploring the effects of trauma, the way people respond to others who are different and the ethics of making animals perform tricks.