________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Dingo.

Charles de Lint.
New York, NY: Firebrand/Penguin Group US (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2008.
213 pp., hardcover, $11.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-240816-2.

Subject Headings:
Supernatural-Fiction. Space and time-Fiction. Sisters-Fiction. Mythology, Aboriginal Australian-Fiction.

Grades 9-11 / Ages 15-17.

Review by Ellen Wu.

*** /4


"Okay Em," she says. "I guess there's no reason to put it off any longer.

" I'm not sure what I was expecting. Even with the dreams I've been having, I never really bought into this idea that she has a real sister and that the two of them can change into dingoes and then back again. I just knew Lainey was in some kind of trouble and I wanted to help. And I know Johnny's bought into all of this even less than me.

But when Lainey turns to look at the dog, Johnny and I do too, and then...and then...

I have to be dreaming.


I've fallen asleep and I'm dreaming all of this--maybe right from when Lainey came into the store. No, not that far back. But probably as far back as when Johnny took me aside in the alley and showed me his sketchbook, telling me he's an artist, because, really. How likely is that?

A lot more than this, I suppose.

Because a shimmer like a shivering mirage runs from the end of Em's muzzle all the way to the end of her tail. Every inch of her quivers, then she starts to rise up onto her hind legs, changing as she does, gold-red dingo into pretty young woman with red-gold hair, who's a twin to Lainey.

Miguel Schreiber is having the school year of his dreams...or nightmares. The son of the local record store/comic book proprietor in a lakeside town, he is plunged headlong into an unlikely romance with a spirited redhead new to the area, the lovely Lainey. With her chipper Australian twang, redhead good looks, and her constant companion, a reddish-gold dog named Em, Lainey makes Miguel fall hard for her when she runs into his father's record store for refuge from the town's teenaged thug, Johnny Ward. Sparks, words, and meaningful glances fly between Miguel and Lainey as the two immediately make a connection. Yet Miguel is puzzled--when he meets her again on the lakefront beach, she rebuffs him with the coldness of a stranger. Could Lainey be suffering from multiple personality disorder?

     And that's not the end of his troubles. Miguel begins to have disturbing dreams in which he finds himself wandering in the Australian rainforest. A quick search on Google tells him that his suspicions are correct, and, strangely enough, he also sees the spitting image of Lainey's dog in his dreams--a dingo. His dreams recur, and the dingo, like Lainey's, growls I want the girl, in Miguel's mind. As if that were not enough, Miguel runs into Johnny Ward, who confesses that he, too, is in love with Lainey, and that he isn't your typical hoodlum, but a budding artist whose passion for drawing is disdained by his abusive father.

     The love triangle involving Lainey, Miguel, and Johnny turns into a four-person affair when the truth finally tumbles out of Lainey--the pet dog she takes with her everywhere is actually her twin sister Em (the one with whom Johnny has fallen in love), and they switch places in order to protect themselves from detection from the ancient Lord of the Dingo clan who needs their pure blood in order to be freed from his prison. Miguel and Johnny thus become the girls' protectors, and, inevitably, the four young lovers are drawn into the land of the Dreaming for a final confrontation with the Dingo.

     Dingo runs without chapter breaks in Miguel's first-person voice and offers some surprises along the way that shouldn't be given away in this review. Nevertheless, despite the fascinating premise of a boy and his nemesis in love with twin sisters trapped by an ancient oath, at times the plot plods on without any sense of life-and-death peril for the protagonists. In fact, one could argue that the antagonists are not evil so much as mythical creatures whose bid for freedom is fulfilled by a final physical contest enacted by Miguel and Johnny. Thus, Dingo differs from other teen fantasy novels in that it doesn't pack the same narrative urgency, the high stakes for survival by triumphing over evil--rather, Miguel and Johnny, rescue their loves by freeing their supposed enemy, an inventive but effective twist.

     de Lint also manages to keep true to an authentic teen voice, with a few objectionable swear words coming from Johnny, and references to iPods and Veronica Mars to confirm that Miguel is a pretty cool person. In fact, Miguel is an affable, even bland character who undergoes no essential growth or change apart from the fact that his good-guy, not overly courageous decency proves itself when he is put to the test to fight for his girl. Lainey and Em are not fully individuated as the lead female characters, spirited but not spirited enough to save themselves, but at least they do have the power to morph into wild dogs. Finally, perhaps the novel may have evolved quite differently had de Lint chosen to tell it from the perspective of the troubled young artist, Johnny Ward. With his abusive father, broken home life, and star-crossed love with Lainey's sister Em, Johnny's story would have been all the more compelling for the teen reader.

     One can only dream of the possibilities this story may have taken, but even as it stands now, Dingo has much to recommend itself, as an absorbing narrative rich in the traditions and lore of Australian indigenous peoples' concept of the Dreaming, a cast of supportive adult characters who stay out of the teenagers' way, and a happily-ever-after ending for the main character and his love.


Ellen Wu is currently a MFA student in Hollins University's graduate program in children's literature.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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