The International Writers Magazine
:Book Review

A Dog for Life by L.S. Matthews
Paperback 208 pages (January 5, 2006)
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books

ISBN: 0340911050

Rowena Betts review

"I wouldn’t write a book which didn’t challenge the reader with questions which maybe aren’t easily answered. I have to write books which at least have the potential to effect changes . . ."

A Dog for Life certainly does what L.S. Matthews wanted it to do.
Although a child’s book, it deals with such issues as animal testing and discrimination against gypsies. But in spite of this, it is not easy to forget that the book has been written for a young audience.

The issues in which are dealt with prove to an adult audience that children are no longer sheltered from the bad things that happen in the world, but instead are encouraged to face them and to help change them. Animal testing, for example, is a particularly delicate subject matter, but in the book it is told to a child by a child, therefore a layer of innocence and naivete covers the topic. This does not in any way shield the facts from the reader, it hints quite clearly that it should not happen and gives legitimate facts to back up John freeing the animals from their prison.

A Dog for Life is the story about a boy named John and his dog, Mouse. Both John and his brother Tom have the ability to speak to Mouse, although their amazing talent must be kept secret, because people refuse to believe them. So when Tom gets sick and Mouse must be sent away, it is up to John to take their beloved dog to the other side of the country to their only known relative so Mouse won’t be put into a pound. Their secret mission leads the pair into all sorts of exciting adventures, as well of the suspense of not knowing how the story will end.

Although a children’s book, A Dog for Life does not lack anything to prevent an adult from enjoying it. It contains many twists and turns and at times, it is uncertain how the story will end. It is an extremely enjoyable book, and because of its constantly changing story lines, it is difficult to put down! But, because of its original aim to be for children, for an adult, it is an easy and enjoyable read.

The tale is told in first person and in the vernacular of a nine-year-old, which helps establish a real connection between the reader and John. The language is quite colloquial, with backtracking and explanations throughout. This creates a friendly equality with the reader, not belittling them in any way, but encouraging them through real language and friendly tones. Because of the subjects discussed in the book, I would recommend this for children no younger than nine. It is a good read for those who are becoming confident with reading longer stories and want something a little more interesting than the average adventure.

L.S. Matthews is the winner of the Fidler Award for her last and first book, Fish. A Dog for Life is a great follow up to her first book, and is sure to become a firm favourite with adults and children alike. This wonderful tale could be easily read again and again and will be well worn on the bookshelf.
© Rowena Betts Feb 2006

Rowena is a Creative Arts major at the University of Portsmouth and has just appeared in Guys and Dolls at the New Theatre Royal here.

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