Title: The Dog Runner
Author: Bren MacDibble
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 4th February 2019
Synopsis: From the author of the multi-award-winning and bestselling How To Bee comes an intense and thrilling new adventure.
‘We’re gonna starve if we stay here,’ Emery said. ‘If we’re gonna go, best go now.’
And he said it like going was something easy. Like all we have to do is walk away.
Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that’s starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery’s mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and dangerous landscape? Well, when you’ve got five big doggos and a dry-land dogsled, the answer is you go mushing. But when Emery is injured, Ella must find a way to navigate them through rough terrain, and even rougher encounters with desperate people…
Emery and Ella – a brother and sister – have been left by their father and Ella’s mum, alone in their house in the closed off city. Everything has fallen apart since a red fungus swept across the country, and world, and decimated the food supply. Around Australia, people are desperate, and without Ella’s parents around, Emery and Ella set off in search of Emery’s mother – where they hope to find shelter and food with people they can trust. To do so, they must hitch up five big dogs to a dry-land dogsled, and traverse dangerous country, dodging people who would harm them if they had the chance.
As the novel progresses, Emery and Ella face dangers they had hoped not to face and see just how badly affected the country beyond the city they’ve been living in is – and this furthers their quest to find safety and security. Told through Ella’s perspective, The Dog Runner looks at the consequences of climate change, and how a single even can affect the world’s food supply – and what can be done to change things. For Ella and Emery, the world is big and dangerous – and during their journey, they are faced with dangers and obstacles they didn’t think they’d ever see.
Emery’s mother is Aboriginal, and Ella and Emery hope she will be able to use the knowledge of her ancestors to help them, and still have some of the seeds and crops Emery’s grandfather saved to help replenish the land. In a clever and accessible way, the novel looks at the connection to country and landscape, family, and the diversity of Australia and humanity. The climate is affected drastically, and the landscape has been altered so distinctly that it is unrecognisable, yet at the same time, it could be something that happens in the near future and could drastically affect and alter how we live our lives.
In a world where we take food supply for granted, this takes an interesting look at how the land reacts to a fungus or virus, or even climate change. In doing so, it posits how we might deal with in the world, who might get assistance first, and how older traditions can end up helping revitalise the land – and the revealing of knowledge that some people might not have had previously, as well as the importance of family, whoever they are, whatever colour they are – and the acceptance of family in dire times. In the end, it is family that is important – and the lengths they go to in order to help each other and the world they live in. It is a world we all have to live in, and like Emery and Ella’s family, working together is what will help us survive.
The story gives us an idea of where to look in the future and how we can seek to survive – through communication, shared knowledge and looking to the past to see what others have done, and how the Indigenous people cultivated and took care of the land before 1788. Which is why this was an interesting – because it shows through tragedy, how millennia old techniques can be used to help save the food supply, and the possibilities of bringing new and old together. In a world where climate change is a constant threat, maybe, like Emery and Ella and their family, we need to start looking at alternatives and preparing for a future that might devastate the landscape.