The Legend of Ghost Dog Island by Rita Monette
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Historical Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full Length (207 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen
Behind every legend lies the truth.
Moving is nothing new for ten-year-old Nikki Landry. Her fisherman father relocates their raggedy old houseboat several times a year in search of better crabbing spots. However, their latest move has brought her to a mysterious bayou where she feels something is watching her from a nearby island.
Nikki learns of a local legend about something sinister inhabiting those swamps, stealing the souls of dogs…which would explain the strange howling sounds. Papa reassures her there’s nothing on the island but gators and snakes. He would know. He’s spent his whole life trapping and fishing those bayous and swamps. But Nikki and her new friends uncover strange happenings from years ago that may have started the old legend, and town folks aren’t talking. Then her beloved beagle goes missing.
Join Nikki as she seeks to discover the real truth behind the legend of Ghost Dog Island…before it’s too late.
Ten-year-old Nikki Landry lives in the same home she was born in, but she has moved several times each and every year of her life. She lives with her mother, father, and younger brother on a houseboat, and her father relocates them frequently as he searches for the best crabbing spots. Nikki hates moving. She no sooner starts making friends when she is uprooted once again. The latest move to a really mysterious bayou takes her from her best friend, Lydia, and forces her to start over yet again in a new school. If that weren’t enough, Nikki thinks she is being watched by something on a nearby island.
Rita Monette has spun a wonderful mystery based on the life of the Cajun people in Louisiana during the mid-1950’s. The reader is immediately drawn into life along the Bayou. The characters are believable, and the hardships of life aboard an old houseboat, where the family is living in poverty and the father is doing his best to keep things together, is portrayed with sensitivity and compassion. Monette details clearly Nikki’s trials as she tries yet again to adjust to a new school, make friends, and avoid a bully. Nikki’s bond to her beagle, Snooper, is shown as a vital element in Nikki’s life, providing companionship and stability through all the family’s moves. So when Snooper goes missing and there is a legend of someone on the nearby island stealing dog’s souls, the reader is right there, following Nikki into danger as she hunts for Snooper and tries to solve the mystery of the island with the strange howling sounds.
I really enjoyed this book and I think Monette has done an excellent job of capturing a time and place now gone. The issue of language, for instance, is shown as Nikki wants to learn Cajun French after hearing her father and others speaking it. This novel is set during the time when it was illegal to speak French in public. The laws changed in 1961, but for Nikki, learning French was like a forbidden fruit.
Monette also describes in mouth-watering detail the food that was common for the Cajun community. She uses a number of words common to this part of Louisiana as well, and she provides a brief glossary at the beginning of the novel defining the terms. I found that this technique of using a glossary first, but then letting the words flow naturally in the novel, was most effective. Monette’s own drawings scattered throughout the novel are most effective in showing Nikki’s world. I really think that Monette’s readers will find it easy to learn about the Cajun people as they read a suspenseful story with plenty of action. The ending ties things up a bit too neatly, but it is satisfying to have everyone sorted satisfactorily.
I think that this novel would be a fun read for anyone from middle-school upwards. It is a very good story in its own right. In addition, I could really see this being used in a classroom with the possibilities for many teaching moments.