Monday, September 28, 2015

The Dogs - Allan Stratton

Our selection librarian at work highlighted Allan Stratton's latest YA novel The Dogs, as one to watch for in the coming months. I just finished it - and I agree - it was good! (Sourcebooks Fire is giving away two copies - the entry link is at the end of the post)

Cameron and his mom are always moving - on the run from Cameron's Dad. Their latest home is an old farmhouse, one that has a dark history. And that history seems to be reaching into the present....can Cameron trust what he thinks he's seeing? Can he trust what his Mom has told him about his Dad? And what's that he seeing out by the barn......

Stratton has created a great teen protagonist in Cameron - he's believable in his thoughts and actions.  Stratton expertly builds the tension slowly as Cameron questions what he's seeing and what is really happening. The reader has just as many questions - because it could all be in Cameron's mind. Is he mentally ill? Is his mother lying? Or could it possibly be real?

All the right elements are in place for a suspenseful read - old house with a sealed attic, moldering boxes in the basement that hint at the previous occupants, a taciturn old farmer next door, rumours and urban legends all add up to a spooky read.

Those who read YA fiction will enjoy The Dogs. It is at the younger end of the spectrum as Cameron is only fourteen.  (But this adult reader was completely caught up from first to last page.) Stratton tackles a number of serious issues throughout the book as well - mental illness, domestic abuse and bullying in an thoughtful and age appropriate manner.  Read an excerpt below or online.

"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.
“An attic.”
“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,
“You too.”
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."

Allan Stratton is an internationally published playwright and author. His awards include a Michael L. Printz Honor Award, multiple ALA picks and the Independent Publisher Book Award. You can connect with Allan Stratton on his website.

Sourcebooks Fire is giving away two copies of The Dogs by Allan Stratton. Enter using their Rafflecopter form below.  

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