London, Macmillan, 2012, 275p
I have found this to be one of the most popular novels on this years Bookbuzz list - across the year 7s, both boys and girls love it.
Soldier Dog, on a most simple level, is War Horse with a dog. Our year 7s are currently involved in a cross-curricular project based around War Horse, with a trip to see the stage show later in the term, and many of the students have seen this similarity in reading the blurb and the first couple of pages of the novel.
However, unlike Morpurgo's acclaimed novel, this is not written from the point of view of the animal involved. Stanley is a fourteen year old boy who loves animals, particularly dogs. His brother is in France, so when his angry, neglectful father turns on him, Stanley decides to run away. He is underage, but the nation is desperate, letting young and old enlist. Stanley is lucky to become a dog handler, and is matched with a loyal, enthusiastic giant of a dog.
Based on the real experiences of dog handlers during World War One, this novel tells of the challenge faced by man and dog as they work together to get messages across no man's land. Soldier Dog is a tragic novel about the horrors of war and the loyalty of man's best friend.
Somehow, whilst filled with vivid descriptions of conflict and heart-wrenching moments of separation and loneliness, the story wearied me as I read. It did pick up towards the end and I found myself quite attached to Stanley and his canine friends, willing them to survive and be reuinited. I pitied Stanley - his brother physically absent whilst his father is emotionally distant - only able to find companionship with his dogs; and I adored the dogs - loyal in the face of the deadliest danger. But it is not my favourite in the 2013 selection.