CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 7. . . .October 18, 2013
Mystery novels are a challenge to write well for adult audience, but for preteens, it’s downright difficult. It takes great skill to balance suspense, adequate pacing of plot, and necessary levity for a heavy plot. In The Spotted Dog Last Seen, Jessica Scott Kerrin manages to excel at this nuanced storytelling, all complemented by her excellent writing.
The book opens with the protagonist Derek, a sixth grader at Queensview Elementary, who has been assigned the undesirable volunteer position at Twillingate Cemetery in order to fulfill his school’s community service requirement. Having suffered a childhood trauma, Derek is not fond of cemeteries. When he learns his fellow volunteers will be the dim-witted Pascal and the cleverly smug Merrilee, and that his supervisor, Mr. Creelman, is surly, stiff, and serious, Derek is unsure how he will survive his Wednesday afternoons of volunteering.
However, when Merrilee stumbles across a secret code hidden in one of the cemetery’s library books, the weekly volunteer sessions start to get more interesting. As they begin their quest to learn about the mysterious “Trevor Tower,” Derek, Pascal, and Merrilee learn to navigate their unconventional friendship, and Derek is forced to face a piece of his past that has remained hidden for a long time. The Spotted Dog Last Seen is nothing short of a triumph. Kerrin has beautifully woven a complex and weighty plot with humour, realism, and an intriguing mystery. In constructing Derek, Kerrin has given a young protagonist a complicated and somewhat tragic history; Derek has experienced the death of multiple important people in his life. The manifestations of these tragedies in his life are approached in a realistic and relatable manner. Kerrin’s gentle and thoughtful treatment of Derek makes experiencing his pain not a cumbersome task, but rather a careful journey of healing.
However, what ultimately makes The Spotted Dog Last Seen a joy to read is Kerrin’s sophistication as a storyteller. The many threads of the intricate plot could easily come undone in the hands of a less-skilled writer, but Kerrin manages to knot the ending nicely. She does not introduce unnecessary characters or objects – a fate that often befalls young adult novelists. Instead, the reader is left wondering, until the last minute possible, what the solution to this puzzle will be. And the resolution is a wonderfully satisfying wrap up to a fantastic quest.
The Spotted Dog Last Seen is a great addition to school, public, and home libraries alike. It’s an absolute must-read for adults – both young and otherwise.
Jillian Sexton has a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Memorial University and is currently completing her MA in Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. You can read more from her on her blog: www.thebookbully.ca
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