book review: the dust of 100 dogs

In my super-secret job I’m never allowed to mention for reasons of national security I find myself in the position to recommend books sometimes. The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King is one of these books that made its way across my workspace (can’t tell you if I have a desk or not, as that is a secret) and struck me as interesting. It’s the story of an Irish pirate and her reincarnation as a person in the late twentieth century after being cursed to spend 100 lifetimes as a dog. The cool thing is that Saffron (her 1990 self) retains all the memories of being 100 different dogs and of being Emer the badass pirate. And the great part of Emer’s memories include knowing where her last greatest treasure was buried. So yeah. Awesome.

There were several things that made this book better than the standard YA fare. First: I loved that it was set very specifically in 1990 for the “modern” parts. It made even that feel historical and obviated the need for today’s GPS and communication technology. In general I’m in favour of fiction being set in a specific year instead of “the present,” so there’re my biases.

Second, Saffron’s family is fucked up and [SPOILERS] they remain so right through the end of the book. There’s no redemption of the grasping mother who wants to live through her daughter’s success instead of doing something herself. Her father is a drug addict Vietnam vet and her brother steals from crippled people and burns down their home. You completely see why Saffron would want to go make a life for herself, memories of 300 years rattling around inside her head or not.

The sex in it is not what you might expect from a YA book too. It’s not all Gossip Girled up, there’re a couple of scenes of Emer (the pirate) getting raped and the villain spends a lot of time masturbating while watching the beach and telling the voices in his head how he’s not gay. So yeah, there’s that.

In all, what I liked about it was how it didn’t feel written to a YA formula. And in the back of the copy I read there’s an interview with the author and she says that she didn’t realize it was a YA book until her agent sold it as such. That makes sense to me. It makes it a bit weirder and out of place maybe, but a teen book I have no problem recommending.

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