There were two reasons Moontrug bought Anne Booth’s debut for 8+ years, Girl With A White Dog: everyone was raving about it on Twitter and she thinks white animals are super cute (white dogs, white owls, white wolves, white rabbits and her FAVOURITEST WHITE ANIMALS EVER: unicorns). Proof of Moontrug’s adoration for unicorns is in the photo of her below.
Jessie is excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, but with Snowy’s arrival a mystery starts to unfold. As Jessie learns about Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog… Booth creates a gorgeously compelling narrative voice in Jessie Jones. Jessie opens the book revealing that her Year 9 homework is to write a modern fairytale. She says: ‘You see, at the beginning of this story, I really did have three wishes. It was easy to imagine that having them all come true at once would be my happy ending. I just didn’t realise how sad the beginning would have to be.’
As if being in Year 9 isn’t complicated enough, Jessie has to deal with her father working overseas the whole time, her cousin’s increasingly unfriendly behaviour and her beloved gran falling ill. Booth perfectly captures the struggling emotions Jessie has to contend with and when Jessie’s English teacher asks why fairy tales often need happy endings, Jessie replies: ‘Because if it doesn’t end happily and if everything isn’t all right, then what’s the point? It’s all horrible and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ and Booth finishes the chapter with two brilliant sentences that reveal just how upset up Jessie is inside.
While reading the book, Moontrug felt like she was absolutely back in Year 9 again. Jessie may have a lot on her plate but she’s gorgeously funny, even if she’s not intending to be: ‘I do not think this story is suitable for bedtime or cartoons’. And on the subject of Ben Green, Jessie says: ‘He’s really good at funny voices. And he’s really good at trumpet.’ Because let’s face it, those kind of qualities are exactly the sort of incidental things you notice about boys in Year 9. And as for Ben’s Mum, Moontrug loved Jessie’s description: ‘If I was going to make Ben’s mum into a fairy tale character I would definitely make her into the Pied Piper, but with dogs.’ Jessie’s crush on her English teacher is also fantastically done: ‘Basically, I went bright red, and then tried to flick back my hair like Nicola Barker – I’m not sure why – I think I had some vague idea it would make me look more sophisticated or something.’
Booth plays out the friendship between cousins Jessie and Fran brilliantly (the end of Chapter 13 is superbly done) – and she so realistically captures the way tensions between two characters can have knock-on effects even (perhaps especially) towards those we love the most. Cue Jessie’s wonderful friend, Kate. Restricted to a wheelchair, Kate still manages to play Sitting Volleyball (extremely well) and she’s a reminder that although, as Yasmin points out, ‘life isn’t happy and safe… bad things do happen to people, and you can’t do anything about it sometimes,’ with courage and determination you have a chance at getting through. Perhaps one the central messages of the book though is of forgiveness – on small scales and on mightily massive ones. As Ben’s gran says: ‘It is only by forgiveness that we can move forwards.’ Girl With A White Dog is a message to us all that everyone has a story. And set against the atrocities of the past, like the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews, and the problems of the present, you have Kate’s determination, Jessie’s capacity for forgiveness and even Fran’s ability to say she’s sorry. Growing up is hard but Booth gives us characters full of hope.