A Ghost Called Dog, by Gavin Neale, is a magical fantasy adventure. Seven-year-old Abby and eleven-year-old Chris move with their parents to a new home, and before long strange things start to happen.
Abby starts talking to imaginary animals – first a rabbit, then a cat. Or are they imaginary? If they are, little Abby has a disturbing imagination:
“…when he came up through the floor he was just a skellington. But then he grew insides and muscles and eyes and fur so he looked like a normal rabbit.”
So far so Hellraiser!
Then there’s the matter of Daphne and Nora, their two old lady nosy neighbours, who seem to have taken an interest in the children. What do they know about the goings-on at their house? Could they really be witches? And why does everything seem to revolve around the old tree in the garden?
The layers of mystery deepen and deepen as the story progresses, until Abby and Chris have to go on a perilous journey and face challenges of courage, skill, and sacrifice.
This is an entertaining and fast-moving tale, which escalates all the way from cosy family drama to high fantasy adventure in the space of its 150 pages. Abby and Chris are believable characters; Abby acts older than her years, but Chris is an absolutely typical eleven-year-old obsessed with FIFA and playing football in the garden. Daphne and Nora provide the guidance and background to the world of magic into which Abby and Chris find themselves, but refreshingly they don’t have all the answers – and they’re not just dumbledoring, either. (Which is a word I just made up, meaning the action of an older mentor character deliberately withholding information from young protagonists in a way that serves the plot. Ahem. Naming no names.)
The story is neatly tied up, and comes to a satisfying conclusion, but if Neale could find a way to tell more stories of the later adventures of Abby and Chris, I’m sure he’d find a willing audience.