A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher (Book Review)
The Good: A fresh take on what the ‘end of the world’ looks like, a story that is as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking, strikingly simple prose on the surface with plenty of depth beneath, plot-twists that pull the rug right out from underneath you, and most importantly…DOGS!
The Bad: As much as I loved the meaningful passages throughout this book, there were times when I wanted it to ‘get to the next bit’. This is especially true at the start. However, looking back, for a story set in a world that doesn’t end with a ‘bang’ (though the story does!) it’s quite fitting that it didn’t start with one either.
The Ugly Truth: The end of the world story you never knew you needed. Seriously. This dystopia-with-dogs is a fresh take on the stories of Armageddon; with no zombies, flesh-eating bacteria, aliens, natural disasters or indeed politics in sight. A reminder that sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the end, it’s just another step on the journey.
The Full Review: First off, a HUGE thank you to Nazia at Orbit for sending me this STUNNING ARC in exchange for an honest review. Seriously, it’s bloody amazing, both cover and contents (and the final cover for the release version is just as incredible).
I’m still thinking about this book, weeks after finishing it. It’s stayed with me, not just because of how heart-breaking it was at times, but also how heartfelt and warming it was. Also, dogs. Seriously—dogs.
The ARC came with a request not to reveal any of this book’s ‘secrets’ (this is the first time I have ever seen a publisher emphasise this so much, but I commend them for it!) so I’ll keep the introduction short. Bear with me on this review, as there’s so MUCH I want to talk about but can’t because…*spoilers*.
The world that we know has ended. In the future, humanity is reduced to families and small communities who have little contact with one another unless circumstance requires it. Much of the modern comforts and commodities have faded with time. Farming, fishing, hunter-gathering and scavenging (or as Griz puts it ‘going a viking’) is how people survive.
The book follows Griz’s journey to save his stolen dog, told via a ‘journal’ of sorts, in which Griz records his story. This style allows for moments of reflection, insight and exploration of themes, such as: hope; home; loss; loneliness; determination; discovery; and, this being a dystopia, survival. But, this also being a story of humankind—the importance of kindness.
When I started making notes about ‘characters and characterisation’ the first thing I put down was Jip the dog. Fletcher brings Jip bounding to life from the pages, with wagging tail and wet nose. The relationship between Griz and Jip is beautiful, and I believe it will resonate with readers whether they are dog lovers or not. The image of a boy and his dog at the end of the world is enough to tug on my heartstrings (though admittedly this might especially resonate with me as a father of a young son and as the owner of a young pup).
Griz is a fantastic PoV. Being young in an old, old world, his childlike (note: not childish) curiosity allows the reader to see the world free of cynicism, though it’s not via rose tinted glasses either. Griz’s story doesn’t so much as tell the story of the world, or how it ended, but it does tell us more about how our choices in the present day impacted Griz’s future world, or indeed, any future world. It’s the smallest things, like how tyres and plastics have survived whilst car parks have not, that struck me the most. It’s also these smaller things that you and I, as readers, can make an impact on.
This story is speculative fiction at its best. And yes, there are elements that, at least to me, are ‘YA’ but this is a story for all ages. There’s something for all the family here (including the dog). It’s a tale that can be enjoyed by all, and though there isn’t so much a direct ‘moral of the story’ there is plenty to learn and cherish.
Which leads me to my one and only drawback with this book. And it’s not really a drawback, its just a preference. I think of myself as a ‘stupid’ reader. I’m too low IQ for some of the more high-brow literary offerings. That’s not a slight by any means, it’s just that I genuinely ‘don’t get it’ or enjoy it in the same way as another reader who might enjoy more complex prose by their ability to comprehend it (I can’t). Kind of like how not everyone ‘gets’ art in a gallery. Now, whilst this book isn’t ‘high-brow’ in how I define ‘high-brow’, it does feature some heavy exposition for the events of the world ending, and some of the themes. These were well written, and did add to the story, but because ‘stupid me’ just wanted to ‘get on with the story’ I felt the need to skim these sections (I didn’t though – like I said, they are fantastically well written). I think it’s also down to the fact that one of my day jobs requires me to read papers on ‘black swan events’ (i.e. an event that comes as a surprise, has a major affect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight), that these sections didn’t interest me as much as it would other readers.
With that in mind, when I was reading this book, I was leaning towards a 4* rating. But…THAT ENDING. 6* out of 5. Platinum medal for the podium finish. Have ALL OF THE AWARDS.
In closing, this book has something for everyone, and yes, I truly believe that everyone should read it. It has a thousand and one important messages in it if you read between the lines, but if you choose to just follow the story, it’s a ripping yarn. Ultimately, Griz’s story is one that I followed from start to finish, right until the end of the world…and beyond.