Sunday, 23 October 2011

And Rocky Too by Jayne Woodhouse, reviewed by John Dougherty

My children got very excited when And Rocky Too dropped through the letterbox. Like me, they’d loved The Stephensons’ Rocket, Jayne Woodhouse’s first story about injured greyhound Rocky and the troubled family who, in taking him in, find themselves drawn back together.

We weren’t disappointed. And Rocky Too contains many of the same elements that made the first book such a delight: page-turning plot, humour, warmth, human interest, and a set of compelling characters. All the original cast make a welcome return - Rocky, of course; grumpy old neighbour Wilf; bad boy Marcus Harding; well-meaning but impractically optimistic Dad; exhausted and exasperated Mum; irritating younger brother Darren; and sensible heroine Anna, whose very credible narrative voice skilfully manages the difficult trick of conveying both objective reality and subjective experience without compromising either.

Following the events of the first book, the Stephenson family faces a new crisis - or rather, two new crises; for on top of Dad’s loss of his much-needed job, Darren’s friendship with Marcus appears to be on the rocks. It turns out that Marcus has a problem - his own family life, which makes the Stephensons’ look idyllic by comparison - and it's the uncovering of this problem which provides much of the narrative thrust. 

Jayne Woodhouse has, once again, done a wonderful job with this story. A number of the established characters are beautifully developed further - notably Wilf, who gets the opportunity to show his warmer and wiser side without losing any of his lovable crotchetiness, and Anna, whose hurt reaction to her Dad’s behaviour is entirely convincing - and whilst it touches on unemployment, potential family breakdown, mental illness, and the plight of juvenile carers, And Rocky Too never becomes a book about issues. It’s very much a book about people.

I was a little disappointed that, having tied up all the loose ends, Woodhouse introduces another one in the very final paragraph. Clearly the intention is to make us want to read the next book - but there really is no need. If the next book is anything like the first two, we’ll want to read it.

My children (now a little older than in the picture) wanted me to say that - while they do also enjoy books with fantastical elements - they really like the books about Rocky because they’re realistic. I’ll go along with that.

And Rocky Too by Jayne Woodhouse, published in 2011 by The Clucket Press. £5.99 in paperback. ISBN 978-0-9549256-9-7

This review will also appear in Armadillo



Penny Dolan said...

Sounds the kind of apparently traditional pet story that needed shouting about and that children will delight in - though may need, in this season, reminding that a dog is not just for Christmas! Also so valuable to see and hear about adults still reading to children even when they can "read for themselves". Will put Rocky on my list!

madwippitt said...

Terrific book - as was the first - an excellent sequel. And nice that it also showed the effect that 'people troubles' can have on pets. Looking forward to number 3!

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