A heart warming tale of family, an examination of racism and inclusivity, and a stark warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past – All these powerful themes in just over two-hundred pages makes Girl With A White Dog a brilliant one-sitting read that lingers in your brain for weeks to come.
Jess has seen her family steadily struggle with the changing world of Britain – Her Dad is forced to seek employment in France when his job is outsourced overseas, and her cousin Fran has to be pulled out of private school when her father’s business starts to struggle. Everything has gotten worse since the foreign workers started coming to their town and taking away the jobs. The one thing Jess has always wanted is a puppy of her own – She feels like a puppy would help her be happy, and change her family. So when her elderly grandmother adopts a beautiful, energetic white Alsatian puppy, Jess is naturally over the moon! It’s everything she wanted, so surely her fairytale ending must be close by – her father will return to them, and her cousin Fran will stop being so mean and aloof at school, and the two will be best friends again. But Jess is about to learn a hard lesson about the differences between real life and fairytales, and when her gran starts to become confused between the past and the present, life starts to look bleak. There’s a mystery in gran’s past, one she’s never talked about, and Jess is determined to learn the truth and help her gran become the peaceful, loving woman she once knew. As her and her friend Kate start to learn about Nazi Germany and the atrocities committed there in their lessons, Jess starts to take a more grown up view of the world around her, and piece together the dark past that haunts her family.
Girl With A White Dog is easily a single sitting sort of read – short, but uniquely gripping and emotionally articulate. Through the innocence of the young characters, we get to see the power of ignorance in the older characters, as well as their shift in perspective as they learn and grow. Jess, especially, has a beautiful character arc, as she goes from fear and hatred towards the strange foreign workers that she sees around her town, to compassion and understanding towards the differences she sees in the others around her. The development in her cousin Fran is similarly brilliantly written, with her starting out as a stuck-up, entitled and entirely selfish young girl who really tugs on the reader’s emotions and anger. Finally Kate – Jess’ wheelchair bound best friend – is the glue that holds the story together, as she’s passionate and determined to do the best thing for her friends, as well as allowing her emotions to cloud her judgement at times, which is important for a well rounded and believable character.
The book deals with some complex themes of modern day racism, as well as the historical atrocities of the Holocaust, but through the eyes of its young characters. It shows an important, and delicately handled example of not letting the mistakes of the past happen again, and in doing so, the story promotes the importance of diversity in our modern world. It shows how vital it is that the next generation in our country learn to accept the differences that they’ll come across in their lives, and that those differences aren’t something to be feared, but something to be embraced. As well as this beautiful inclusive embrace, though, Girl With A White Dog possesses a dark, historical mystery which shook me pretty heavily, and the passages dealing with Concentration Camps are harrowing to say the least, but so very important and evocative. It also deals with Jess’ Gran’s deteriorating mental state in a touching, powerful and melancholy sort of way, and the whole story uses fairy tale analogies to a brilliant effect, driving the underlying sadness of the story home subtly, but also allowing for an uplifting feel. The sadness comes from the mistakes of the past, but the book is hopeful and optimistic in tone – So long as we learn from the lessons it teaches us.
A vitally important read, and one that will stay with you, Girl With A White Dog is a triumph of diversity and should be in schools everywhere.
Thanks for Reading,