Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Synopsis: Cameron and his mom have been on the run for five years. His father is hunting them. At least, that’s what Cameron’s been told.
When they settle in an isolated farmhouse, Cameron starts to see and hear things that aren’t possible. Soon he’s questioning everything he thought he knew and even his sanity.
What’s hiding in the night? Buried in the past? Cameron must uncover the dark secrets before they tear him apart.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I catch something moving by the barn. When I look, it disappears. Wait. There it is again, at the cornfield. Some movement, some thing.”
Fifteen- year-old Cameron and his mother never seem to be able to settle in one place. His mother claims she’s protecting him from his abusive father, but Cameron can’t help wondering if she’s just being paranoid. She refuses to share why she’s so afraid, and since Cameron has few memories of his father, he doesn’t know what to think. The thing is when you live in constant fear, you’re also constantly waiting for the worst to happen, and as a result, you come to doubt not only your judgement, but others’ as well. This is the case here. Cameron is admittedly frightened, but he’s unsure if this is because he’s worried about his father finding them or because his mother might be unbalanced. This uncertainty sets the tone for the rest of this creepy story. It’s related in the first person POV of Cameron, and eventually you come to question even his reliability. In addition to the stress of constantly being on the run, he also suffers from nightmares. When you add in the fact that he has “episodes” where he silently moves his lips as though he’s talking to someone who’s not there, well, you start to wonder.
Location, Location, Location. Stratton amps up the creep factor by having Cameron’s and his mother’s latest hiding place be an isolated and somewhat decrepit farmhouse she rents, in Wolf Hollow. Of course on his very first day of school Cameron is targeted by the town bully who immediately tells him his house is haunted and he should watch out for “the dogs”. Naturally these can’t be cute fluffy ones like these:
or even this little fella:
No. They’re more like a pack of these:
It’s gradually revealed that the farmhouse is indeed the site of a murder–or murders, which took place long ago. When Cameron is contacted by the ghost of Jacky–a young boy, it’s not immediately clear if he’s really just a figment of Cameron’s imagination. What is clear is that both the boys situations are similiar, and it’s not long before Cameron decides to play detective.
Cameron is an appealing and sympathetic narrator who teens will definitely relate to and root for. While there are plenty of paranormal details, the author successfully balances these with real life issues such as bullying, mental illness, and domestic abuse.
The mother’s character slightly annoyed me. She’s another stereotypical parent who thinks the best way to protect her child is to keep secrets from him. Naturally this causes even more problems. I honestly felt like shaking her at times!
Interestingly, the more likeable adult character is Ken, the mother’s new boyfriend. While Cameron is initially distrustful of his overtures, he actually winds up being the only real stabilizing force in this kid’s life.
The mystery of Jacky and the farmhouse is slowly and thoughtfully explored, and by the end of the book Cameron and the reader have a more thorough understanding how past events can have such an incredible impact on people decades later.
Although some of the topics brought up are serious, I think this book will find it’s target audience with 12-15 year olds. While there are disturbing elements, nothing is graphically depicted. Instead, The Dogs allows the reader to use their imagination. Like Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar, it’s a great book to use in a classroom or a book discussion group.