Who Let the Dogs Out (Blog stop number four)

9780857983763I don’t like dogs.

No. that isn’t strictly true. I do like dogs a lot, but in the same way as I like wild tigers and gorillas and great white sharks. I think they’re beautiful and amazing examples of the wonder of the natural world.

I just don’t particularly want them anywhere near me.

It’s really dog owners that I don’t like. The bad ones, anyway. The ones who let their dogs off the leash in the park when my daughter wants a run, or in town when she’s just trying to walk. The ones who say, “He wouldn’t hurt a fly”. The ones who think the rules don’t apply to them. That their dog is a special, unique example of the species – the one dog incapable of harm.

All dogs are capable of harm. That’s why they scare the bejeepers out of me.

But what does all of this have to do with Intruder, the latest book in my tour of Aussie YA?

Well, it’s about dogs. One dog in particular: a slobbering, messy wonder of a dog called Herc.

In real life, I would be petrified of Herc (who, from what I can gather from my rudimentary knowledge of dog breeds is probably a bulldog). On paper, I loved him.

And I loved this book.

I said in my last post that I was a bit trepidatious about starting a book with the title Intruder, given my aversion to all things gory, gruesome, or in any way heebie-jeebie-inducing. The author, Christine Bongers, assured me that her book wasn’t like that – that the name referred to something else entirely.

A couple of pages in, when the young narrator – a female – is having her bedroom and her body violated by a shadowy predator, I was poised to jump on Twitter and make “pants on fire” exclamations.

But Bongers wasn’t lying. The title, intruder, refers to so much more than the prowler who enters the heroine’s home. And, in fact, the search for the identity of this man is secondary to the other plotlines in the story – about parental responsibility and family secrets and mental illness and young love. It is a layered, complex, incredibly moving story and I was completely gripped by it.

And then there’s Herc. If I ever were to get over my dog phobia, it would probably be through the love of a dog like Herc. He actually reminded me a lot of myself – a bit hapless and hopeless and flawed, but with a heart of gold. On slobber levels he might beat me, but otherwise, we’re kindred spirits. Bongers has done an amazing job of making every character so nuanced, she even extended it to the canine ones.

It may not stop me from breaking into a run the next time I’m approached by an off-lead pooch, but the fact she won me over with this glorious mutt says something.

The book won me over too, completely. Christine Bongers is a true, underrated talent, and I hope her name becomes more well-known in the coming years.

I’m taking a wee break from the blog tour to – finally – read Gone Girl ­before someone gives away the ending (and yes, I am aware there will be heebie-jeebie moments in this book. I am both brave and foolish). But I’ll be back soon in Sydney, with a book by one of my writing heroes, John Larkin. Stay tuned!

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