Book Review: The Dog Runner by Bren Macdibble

The Dog Runner
Written by Bren Macdibble
Middle Grade, Dystopian, Survival
248 Pages
Published February 2019
Review copy courtesy of 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. New Zealand author 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.

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1 comment

  1. I've never heard of this book before. That cover is really lovely, too!
    I can't imagine just how scary the entire situation would have been for those kids.
    I'm glad all three dogs survived, and that the kids did, too.
    You're 100% right - these kinds of books, and topics, are so very important, especially considering the current climate of our nation.
    Lovely review, Kelly! 💜


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