Scout and the Rescue Dogs
Walker Books, 2023
224pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99
As the school year comes to an end at the Arcadia Boarding School for Young Ladies, Scout has only two plans for the long summer holidays – to enjoy the time with her trucker dad and to persuade him that Arcadia is not the best fit for her and she shouldn’t have to go back there. She has only been there since her mother died from cancer and having kept that a secret from the other girls, she has found it hard to make friends. And now her teacher has set the class a summer project of reaching out to three others to establish stronger friendships… and , of course, two of her three assigned contacts are her greatest tormentors.
But, Dad has one last run to do before they can escape to their farm near Beechworth – a philanthropist has donated a load of dog food to be delivered to animal rescue shelters in anticipation of the increased numbers they experience over Christmas – and soon Scout’s school-based problems fade into perspective as she meets carers and dogs and even makes a new friend through Ms Lawler’s initiative, all the while facing the threat of bushfires sweeping the countryside.
Set against the backdrop of the unprecedented fire season of 2019-2020 and travelling through south-eastern Australia through country that is so familiar to me – I’ve been to every one of the towns mentioned so many times – this was a story that kept me reading well past my bedtime and into the early hours. Wolfer has created a character who tells the story of that dreadful time through a child’s eyes – the interminable days of smoke and ash, the concern for the native wildlife, the fear of ember attacks and worse – and while, as an adult who evacuated twice because of the imminent danger, I could cope with the memories, it may open wounds that are just beginning to have scar tissue for some readers. But, at the same time, it is a story of love, the importance and power of memories, friendship, the camaraderie amongst strangers as communities rally together as they do in dire times, and of hope as Scout comes to terms with her situation through her deepening relationship with her dad and her own philanthropic enterprises. And threaded through it to lighten the mood as the real-life issues are addressed, is the greatest collection of the WORST Dad Jokes ever!!!