July 2012, MacMillan, 288 pages, Paperback, Review copy
Themes: World War 1, child abuse, friendly teacher, one lonely boy, bonds between animals and owners, taking care of others, heartbreak, strangeness of grief, joining the military, receiving favours, frustration, keeping the goal in mind, the brutality of warfare, making mistakes, lost and found, courage and spirit,
Content: moderate to strong warfare atmosphere, a few in depth details about the wounded/dead, several tissues needed
Summary from MacMillan
Stanley's dad hasn't been the same since his wife died and his eldest son went off to fight in the war. Now Stanley is either invisible to his dad or the object of one of his rages, and his only friend is his dad's prizewinning greyhound, Rocket. But one day Rocket escapes, and the result is a litter of non-thoroughbred puppies that Da says will all have to be drowned, even Stanley's favourite puppy, Solider. Stanley is so angry with his father that he runs away and enlists in the army to train as a messenger dog handler, and despite being far too young he's soon heading to France with a great Dane called Bones by his side.
As the fighting escalates and Stanley experiences the horrors of war, he comes to realise that the loyalty of his dog is the one thing he can rely on. But his father hasn't given up on him, and extraordinary circumstances will bring them together once more . . .
Heartache was a major theme throughout the book - at each life changing moment Stanley's emotions were heartbreaking to read about. As an owner of a devoted cat I appreciated the anguish Stanley went through when various events happened to the dogs he was attached to. I think his suffering was enhanced because of his age. I found it amusing how the military got around the issue of Stanley's height, weight and age, as well as the way his comrades rallied round when he needed them the most. Although he felt alone, there was always someone or some dog supporting him, which for me lightened the gravity of the story's setting. Ordinarily I'm not reading such grim stories but I was pulled in by the animals of this book and the latest one, A Horse Called Hero, and I'm glad I read it.
Find out more at Sam's website.
For more wartime stories check out Sam's next book, A Horse Called Hero.