Good Boy by Mal Peet, with illustrations by Emma Shoard

Good Boy by Mal Peet and Emma Shoard

With distinctive writing that is almost poetic, this is literary fiction for reluctant and dyslexic readers.

A huge sinister black dog has haunted Sandie Callen’s nightmare’s since she was a child. The only thing that can make the nightmare go away is Sandie’s mongrel dog, Rabbie. He’s a ‘good boy’ who chases the dreams away. Sandie’s life is calm for years until the time when Rabbie’s no longer there to protect her. Now grown up and working as a police officer, the dreams come back and Sandie even finds herself haunted during the day. However, when she’s caught up in a violent incident at work, she finds this might not necessarily be a bad thing.

This is an extremely unusual book for a dyslexia friendly story. Books aimed at reluctant readers tend to contain stories with strong characters, gripping plots and unexpected twists. Good Boy, in contrast, is much more in the style of literary fiction with a focus on the lyrical language rather than characterisation or plot. While the vocabulary is kept simple with a reading age of 8, the style of the writing is distinctive and almost poetic. (I’ve not read any of Mal Peet’s other books so I can’t say whether this is his normal style or not. However, given the awards he won when he was alive, I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t typical of his writing).

The literary feel is reinforced by the unusual combination of tense and point of view. The story opens with a dream sequence written in the second person (i.e. directly addressing the reader as ‘you’): “You are walking down the garden path. You are wearing strange and heavy clothes. Your hands explore them but do not recognise them.” The rest of the book shifts to third person whilst staying in present tense (it’s more common to have third person combined with past tense) which gives the whole story a distant, unfamiliar feel.

Despite these unusual choices, this short book (just 73 pages) is incredibly easy to read and I was gripped by the story. It’s hard to comment on the plot without giving too much away but I was drawn in, unsure where this was taking me throughout and unable to put the book down until I reached the unexpected ending.

Indeed, the story intrigued me so much that I didn’t even pause to glance at the pictures that accompany the text. Instead, I had to go back once I’d finished reading to fully appreciate the atmospheric illustrations by Emma Shoard. Again, it’s rare for teen books to be fully illustrated but these two-tone, highly stylised pictures feel entirely appropriate for the age range.

If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out The Family Tree by Mal Peet, which is also illustrated by Emma Shoard and published by Barrington Stoke.

ISBN: 978-1781128527
Publication date: March 2019
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Pages: 88
4-star-book-review-rating

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