Another great adventure story from Hawke’s Bay writer, Mary-anne Scott, who has cornered the shelves in my house for books for boys. Again, she nails it, on-point for pace, topic and characters. The Tomo, hot off the press and in good time for Christmas, is aimed at boys who can read for themselves (8-14 ish) and fancy themselves heros of the great outdoors (at least in their imaginations). Oh, and you have to love dogs to understand this book. I mean, how can you possibly relate to a boy who risks his life for a dog otherwise?
I love dogs so was hooked from the start, and I loved Blue, who is Phil’s father’s dog, but seems to have a big soft spot for Phil, just the same. When his dad goes into hospital over Christmas for cancer treatment, Phil and his brothers are placed around friends and family: Phil gets a farm working-holiday, and he gets to take Blue.
It’s hard work on Chopper’s farm and he’s a blunt farmer, gruff as they come, with no time for a dog that doesn’t understand his commands and an inexperienced boy, so Phil gets a string of unpleasant jobs and an unhappy Christmas. He’s studying knots, which is about as entertaining as it gets. Chopper’s daughter turns up, cheerful and cute, and one of the workers, Tuku, takes a shine to him so things improve, and out on the hills under the imposing Mt Whakapūnake, riding along with his faithful dog, life feels sweet.
Until the dog disappears.
This story is part of Mary-anne’s family lore. Her grandfather lost his favourite dog down a tomo under this mountain—some 30 meters straight down into a limestone cave. A few days later he climbed down a knotted rope on a rescue mission.
Lucky Phil’s been studying all those knots.
Loved the setting out Gisborne way and the real New Zealand feel. There’s a good family background, emotional depth and authentic relationships. And a cool dog. I’d climb down a tomo to save her, too.
It’s the getting out again that’s the tricky bit.