The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner
Written by Bren Macdibble
Middle Grade, Dystopian, Survival
248 Pages
Published February 2019
Thank you to Allen & Unwin Australia
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★★★★★
Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that's starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery's mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you've got five big doggos and a dry land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people...
It begun with the fungus that spread across the expansive fields of Australia, fresh produce became a rare commodity as the pasture succumbed to infestation, animals starving, livestock perishing. The government delegated rations were barely enough to survive as friends and neighbours begin to abandon their homes. Organised syndicates roamed the neighbourhood in search for commodities, gold and precious metals traded for meagre allowances.

Siblings Ella and Emery share their small suburban apartment with their father and three canine companions, waiting for their mother to return home from the electricity station. It's been eight months since Ella has seen her mother, several weeks since the electricity blacked out and with no contact from her mother, Ella and Emery's father ventures to the station to find his wife with plans to leave the city with his family.

The city is dangerous, especially for two children and when their father doesn't return home, Ella and Emery decide to travel across the rough terrain to reach Emery's mother's farm. Along with their three dogs, two new recruits and a mushing sled, Ella and Emery will need to navigate the desolate countryside, avoiding armed offenders and learning to survive on the dying land.

The Dog Runner is harrowing and hopeful journey of two children surviving despite an environmental disaster, told from the perspective of a young lady pining for her mother. Ella is such a lovely character, intelligent but within the new world, she continues to see the best in others and in humanity. Besides her half brother Emery, Ella feels safest with her Malamute Maroochy, her loyal canine companion. From their small apartment window, Ella watches her world turning to ruin. The streets are no longer safe as a food shortage begins bringing out the worst in others. To survive, Ella and Emery are planning on sledding to Emery's mother's house, a small mushroom farm that she manages with her parents beyond the city. With communications wiped out and solar power panels being stolen, there's no way of knowing if the farm has been effected or how wide the infestation spread.

In a country reliant upon grain, a red fungus has spread throughout the city and native floral, grasslands have died, animals who normally feed off the land are starving. The narrative encourages discussion surrounding sustainable farming and sustainable living. All it takes is a bacteria or fungus introduced into our environment for our food source to completely overwhelmed. The government guaranteed rations would continue but ultimately left communities to ruin while those desperate for food begun to turn on one another. 

Novels like The Dog Runner are so incredibly important, especially given the environmental state of our world. It introduces middle grade readers to issues such as biodiversity, sustainability, erosion and drought using accessible and engaging language. Although one dog sustains an injury, each dog survives. Bren Macdibble is a phenomenal middle grade author, her debut children's novel How To Bee is a thought provoking narrative of environmental impact and human development, cementing herself as a wonderful author who is conscious of our environment and how education and awareness allows us to make better choices to sustain our planet. Simply beautiful.

10 comments

  1. This sounds like a really well done novel, that focuses on important issues for a younger audience. I love that it features dogs too since I'm a big fan of them - though *fingers crossed* none of them die! I don't need any more books about dogs dying. hah Ella sounds like a great character too. I think I'd like her.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. I was worried about that too Lauren but happy to report that although one is injured, none of the dogs die thankfully. Such an important read, especially given our current environment throughout the world and the conversations about climate change.

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  2. This book sounds awesome! I love the cover, but more importantly, I have yet to read a book that explores environmental sustainability, which is needed now more than ever. I love especially that it's a middle grade book to make these discussions accessible to younger audiences. Lovely review :)
    claire @ clairefy

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    1. The Dog Runner and also her debut middle grade novel How To Bee are both exceptional reads! Both explore our environmental impact and how we can become more sustainable and take care of our planet. Both are told in easy to understand terms for middle grade readers but also captivating reads.

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  3. Survival stories always get my blood pumping, and this being a dystopian would take it up a notch. I like that the author wove in those all those environmental issues. I could see a creative teacher using this book for a springboard to a great lesson.

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    1. Wouldn't it just! Even parents guiding reading, especially given the climate crisis the world is facing, in Australia alone we need more reads like The Dog Runner and also the authors middle grade debut, How To Bee, which focuses on the plight of bees dying. These issues are so rarely seen in middle grade or young adult for that matter and we need more of them.

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  4. I know this isn't the intent of the book, but it certainly is timely -- my mind immediately went to all that we have lost and will lose once the bushfires are done and that it's a dystopia of a different kind, but one none the less. The generation that reads books like this (and we definitely need books like this) is the one that'll learn to take better care of our world.

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    1. It most definitely all ties in doesn't it. Children are so aware of what's going on in our environment and books like The Dog Runner and also How to Bee are leading the way in environmentally conscious reads.

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    2. We so need more books, like this Kelly. As much as we need more about mental health and islamophobia and racism — which YA , is taking on more and more.

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  5. Wow this sounds brilliant! Awesome review Kel. I'm not sure how this one has slipped under my radar!
    I've still yet to read How To Bee, so it looks like i've not got two Bren books to catch up on!!

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