Genre: YA Mystery Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
I go up to my bedroom. It’s at the top of the living-room stairs, next to a small bathroom and near the big room over the kitchen. That’s the room Mom thought I’d pick, and I would have, except for the trapdoor in the ceiling. It’s sealed up with nails and paint. When I saw it, I asked Mom what she thought was up there.
“Yeah, but what’s in it?” I pictured a dried-up body, half eaten by mice. I mean, who seals up an empty attic? Anyway, that’s why I didn’t choose the big room. If I don’t see the hatch, it’s easier not to think about what’s on the other side.
The bedroom I picked came with an oak desk, a wooden chair, a night table with a lamp, and a metal-frame bed. The mattress is new, unlike the wallpaper, which is stained and peeling along the seams near the window. Under the peels are layers of older wallpaper, one with little orange canaries on it.
The window over my desk is the one good thing about my room. Looking out, I can see the barn with the fields all around and the woods in the distance. At night, the stars and the glow of the porch-lamp light up bits of the barn and the first row of cornstalks.
I start to do my homework. Pretty soon, though, I’m looking out the window, watching the stars come out and trying to forget my life. I wonder who all are staring up at the moon right now. Are they wondering the same thing?
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch something moving by the barn. When I look, it disappears. Wait. There it is again at the cornfield. Some movement, some thing.
I count to twenty. Nothing. I relax. Then—did that stalk move? I turn off my light so whatever’s out there can’t see in.
It’s probably just a breeze.
Or Mr. Sinclair. Or Cody and his gang.
Don’t be nuts. If it’s anything, it’s an animal. A coyote or a dog.
The dogs. I close my curtains. If I don’t look out, whatever’s there will go away. But I can’t not look. I sneak a peek. Nothing. Wait. By the barn. Is that a boy?
I blink. The boy is gone.
My eyes scan the barn. There’s a missing board up in the loft area. The more I stare, the more I think I see the boy staring back at me from the shadows behind the hole. He’s maybe ten, very pale, and he’s wearing one of those old Davy Crockett hats with the raccoon tail hanging from the back. Are those freckles on his cheeks?
Don’t be crazy. The barn’s too far away to see stuff like that.
The face disappears. I stare till I see double. The face swims back into view.
This is too weird. I close my eyes and try to clear my head by thinking about the bus and the Cheerios between Benjie’s teeth. When I open my eyes, everything’s normal. There’s no face. Nothing. Just the night.
And that’s how it stays.
I close my curtains, get ready for bed, and crawl under the covers. I hate the way I scare myself. It’s always the same and it’s always stupid. And the scared-er I get, the more I talk to myself, which is even stupider.
Besides, even if there was a boy in the barn, what’s scary about that? Maybe he just likes exploring places like I do. Still, it’s weird he’s on our property, especially so late. I wonder where he lives.
Who says he lives anywhere? Who says he’s real? What parents let a kid that young wander around at night?
Mom knocks on my door. “Cameron?”
“May I come in?”
I know she wants to give me a good-night hug, but I told her to stop it when I was twelve, so she just stands in the doorway. “I know you didn’t mean anything. You’ve had a hard day. I’m sorry I overreacted.”
I hate it when she’s all understanding. It makes me feel like an even bigger jerk. “That’s okay. Mom, I really am sorry.”
“I know.” She pauses. “’Night, then. I love you.”
I want to say the l-word back, but I feel dumb, so I just say,
Mom closes the door. I go to turn off my lamp and get flashes of Mr. Sinclair and the dogs and the kid I maybe saw in the barn. What’s out there in the dark, circling the house when we’re asleep? What could be out there?
I leave the light on.
There is something so haunting and lonely about the cover of The Dogs, isn’t there? If a book cover is supposed to embody the soul of the book, providing it’s readers a first impression of the emotion that the story should invoke, than whoever designed this cover really hit the nail on the head. There’s the eeriness of the old house, the sadness of the dead fields… yet there’s a light on in the window, and the sun is shining, which makes it feel almost inviting. It’s a good balance between the darkness of Cameron’s past, and the possibility of his future.
On the outside, The Dogs is a ghostly mystery. Cameron moves to this sleepy quiet town, living in a rundown old farmhouse where he stumbles upon a mystery that happened around 50 years ago. Underneath that, The Dogs is really a story about spousal abuse and the affect it has on an entire family, not just on the wife. I thought that Cameron is obsessed with this mystery partly because he is so confused and unsure of the events of his own past. Through attempting to figure out what happened to Jacky all those years ago, he starts to see his own situation in a new light.
On the whole, The Dogs was a pretty good read. I was definitely caught up in the whodunit of the story. My mind flew through all the different theories of what might have happened to Jacky, and what Mr Sinclair had to do with any of it. I thought that Allan Stratton did a pretty good job of writing the story from the mind of a 15 year old boy who was dealing with life after leaving an abusive parent. Understandably he was confused, especially since he was never given all the facts and was repeatedly given the ‘when your older’ answer to his questions. If he had been well-adjusted and without flaws I would have been been far more turned off. Though, there were times that I thought Cameron was especially annoying. He made really stupid choices, to the point that he felt younger in maturity than 15. I found myself, especially toward the end, yelling at him as I was reading. (I think most teenagers in his situation may be exactly like that, so this isn’t a writing criticism.)
I think the only problem I had, the reason the book only has 4 stars, is because there are hints in the story that Cameron has some psychological problems. As readers we know why he was talking to himself, and it was probably perfectly sane. Yet, Cameron was also told that people saw him hitting himself, and he definitely had anger problems… I think that the book would have benefited from elaborating on this and not just dropping it once the mystery was solved.
Despite that, I really enjoyed reading this book. The story was simple yet elaborate, and the mystery kept me guessing all the way until the clever reveal.
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Rating: = B
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