In my third book recommendation for anti-bullying week, I’m turning to Anne Booth’s stunning debut novel, Girl With a White Dog. Booth manages to cover so many aspects of bullying and compassion in her book that I don’t know how they all fit in there.
Jessie is excited when her gran, who suffers from Alzheimers’ disease, suddenly gets a white Alsatian puppy. Jessie is a bright, caring girl who has a seemingly unbreakable bond with her best friend Kate. She’s also a girl whose life is in turmoil. Her cousin, Fran, has turned against her, and her father has lost his job, meaning Jessie and her family have to move into a much smaller house that she doesn’t like. Jessie is delighted to have Snowy the puppy to look after to distract her from all this, but soon her delight turns to worry as her gran starts to have flashbacks to the war, when she owned a similar white dog, and what happened to him haunts her and slowly uncovers a long-hidden family secret.
Bullying takes many forms in Girl with a White Dog. Jessie’s cousin, Fran, turns from her closest ally to a near stranger, catty and cruel, especially to Kate. The immigrant workers in her town face even more callous bullying at the hands of the locals, and Jessie finds that the opinions she has forged of them have to be reviewed as she starts to see them as people just like her. Booth cleverly uses these images of bullying, and the inaction that allows it to flourish (whether by fear or lack of empathy) and weaves them together with a story of the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Girl With a White Dog is an astounding book. It raises questions about how we treat people who we think are different to us and how bullies can use fear to stop good people from standing up to them. Booth unpacks the various strands of her narrative brilliantly and Jessie is both utterly believable and very sympathetic. Although dealing with dark subjects, there is a lot of hope and love in this book, and the underlying messages about the wonderful power of forgiveness, courage and compassion shine through. It’s not difficult to see how Girl With a White Dog found its way onto the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlist and gained a nomination for the Carnegie Medal.