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Forgive me, but this is going to be a long one. I’ve tried to do briefer reviews than usual throughout Girl Week, but this one is special and I’m going to do my usual obsessing over every minute detail.
In the late 17th century, famed pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs. Three hundred years later, after one hundred lives as a dog, she returned to a human body—with her memories intact. Now she's a contemporary American teenager, and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.
The Dust of 100 Dogs isn’t really a young adult novel. I’m not quite sure what age group it belongs to, actually. It’s for the most part narrated by a teenager, sure, but said teenager is only a teenager on a technicality. She’s been alive for over 300 years, first as a human named Emer, then as 100 dogs, then as Emer’s second-coming, Saffron. Emer surpassed her adolescent years, but she never really grew and appreciated her adulthood. Saffron is still a teenager when the story takes place. Still, all her years as a dog gave her a keen insight on human nature. Really, there’s no easy answer where this book is concerned, and hopefully—as Leila Roy said—it will be one more step in blurring the line between YA and adult.
Now, how do I begin this? I agree with both other reviews I’ve read. This is a peculiar book and it stands out from whatever else you were or have been reading. I’d say it takes awhile to grow on you, too. Because it’s such an unorthodox approach to the YA I’m used to—which as I’ve said before, this is most assuredly not, but I didn’t know that—I didn’t know how to react to it at first. I thought it was exceptional, whatever it was, but how do I review this? So, if you plan to read it, get that notion out of your head. It only limits this book’s potential. Once it dawned to me this is genre-bending, it escalated from exceptional to superb. Aside from its own literary merit, this book’s got that genre-bending thing going for it. That’s fucking awesome, y’all.
This book has three recurring storylines: Emer’s youth in Ireland, her travails in the name of true love, and her coming to be a pirate; Saffron’s voyage to Jamaica to unearth the treasure she buried there three centuries prior; and Fred Livingstone’s life in Jamaica. They’re all connected, the first two in obvious manners, Fred’s in a way you’ll only understand reading the book. There are also nine dog facts thrown in, which depict dog psychology. An interesting bit about these Dog Facts is that you can apply many of them to humans, too. It’s a unique parallel.
This is an odd mix of contemporary and historical without time-travel. (I keep telling you guys that this book breaks all the rules. It’s true, see?) The historical locales are well-drawn, and since part of it takes place in Ireland, you get to see a bit of A.S. King’s life experience. (She lived on an Irish self-sufficient farm for over a decade.) The wide array of settings in here—the US, Ireland, and pirate locales—are well-realized, at any rate.
And now for my favorite part in any book: characters. The dynamics here—Emer/Saffron’s reincarnations, Saffron’s dysfunctional family, and certain aspects of Fred’s life—make for a very extensive amount of discussion questions. Like Jen Robinson said:
What would it be like to live as a child, with knowledge that you weren't supposed to have? How frustrating would it be to be the sole hope of your downtrodden family, when that hope conflicted with what you wanted from life? If you were reincarnated, and remembered everything, how would you ever separate your current self from your past selves? Or would you need to?Moreover, I’d be interested in hearing more about Fred Livingstone and the arrangement he has with his assistant. Now that I’ve finally reviewed this I’ll be able to talk to the author more about it; it’s curious-making.
And finally, the writing and storytelling: A.S. King is incredibly talented. That’s all I’m saying on that subject. (Okay, okay, and also, Saffron’s wry voice = LOVE.)
I had built up my idea of this book in my mind and it did worry me it wouldn’t meet my expectations. Know what? It didn’t. It was something else altogether, and while incomparable to what I was expecting (I am telling you, you don’t know what this book will be like), it pleased me. It’s well-rounded, cultural, and depicts the world beyond. And aside from that, like I mentioned above, there are a lot of external things going for it. I expect big things from this one. Wait for it.
Apologies to all who asked me what I thought in the past few months. I had an outstanding deal with Amy I wouldn’t talk about it to her before the review, and I applied it everywhere else. Now you know I’m a fangirl. A
Further: The book site.
Girl Week is a week-long event here on the blog celebrating strong YA heroines and feminism. Find out more about it here.
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