This review is dedicated to my dog Max, who passed in November, 2019 at the age of 17, and to his lifelong companion, our 20 year old cat, Brody, who followed him a month later. I love you til the end of the world, guys.
Griz, the first person narrator and titular boy of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, lives in an empty world. Unlike our crowded world full of 8 billion people, Griz’s world went through a population collapse a few generations ago, reducing the global population to less than 10,000 people. The Baby Bust, as it was ironically known, happened over the course of one generation. No one is quite sure why, but almost everyone became infertile, worldwide, all at once and without warning.
Those who remained fertile were locked up for a time, theoretically for their own protection, in a sort of reverse witch hunt, then eventually allowed to leave. Most went into hiding in remote areas until the infertile population grew old and died off.
Now, everywhere is a remote area. Griz has only seen a few people outside of his family in his entire life, mostly the members of the family who live on a neighboring island off the coast of what used to be Scotland.
But teenage Griz isn’t lonely, since he lives with his parents, brother, sister and dogs. There’s always someone to talk to, work to be done, a new adventure to be had on one of the family’s scavenging trips throughout the local islands, or a new book to read from the stack he’s collected during his travels.
Griz hasn’t seen much of the world or known many people in person, but he travels far and wide through his books. His father insists on handing down the practical wisdom of the past so that it isn’t lost, and Griz adds all of the literature he can absorb. He has a fondness for stories about post-apocalypses and dystopias, which he compares to his own world and mines for ideas to use in his own life.
The family’s routine is shattered when they receive a visitor named Brand, a charming storyteller with a red beard and a sack full of items to trade. They are wary of him, and don’t reveal everything about themselves to him. But due to their inexperience with all of the ways people can hurt each other, he still manages to take advantage of them. Most importantly, he steals Jess, one of Griz’s two dogs, and sails off in the middle of the night.
Without thinking twice about it, Griz and his other dog, Jip, jump onto Griz’s boat and sail after Brand, with barely any supplies or weapons, just each other and their determination to get Jess back. It’s the beginning of an epic land and sea journey of survival and discovery, love and loyalty, betrayal and sheer grit. In the end, Griz and Jip rescue much more than just Jess, though Griz never loses sight of her as his goal.
Years before the beginning of the story, Griz lost the sister who was just a year older than him to an accident. At the same time, his mother became disabled and uncommunicative. They were the two people he was closest to in the family, so these twin losses hang over the story as Griz replaces his human confidantes with the journal that becomes the novel.
His dogs and his journal keep him sane in tough emotional times, so the loss of Jess, especially in a world with so few people, really is the loss of a family member. Griz has already lost enough. He’s not going to lose anymore, not if he can prevent it.
But Brand is just as motivated to keep Jess, though, as he himself insists, he’s not a monster. A small world can still be a complicated world, since this is a lawless place, with few ties between groups to induce decent behavior. People develop a variety of survival strategies, some brave and noble, some expedient and occasionally cruel, some ruthless and violent. Brand is, for the most part, expedient and self-interested in a world that offers no protection other than what you can make for yourself.
The author, CA Fletcher, takes the reader on the same visceral journey that Griz and Jip take. Because the novel is Griz’s journal, we follow his progress, his ups and downs, his memories, knowledge of the past, and what he knows and learns of the current world as he follows Brand. Griz is a thoughtful narrator who expresses situations in vivid detail that engages the senses while also making more intellectual connections.
His journey is long and arduous, at times hopeless, and he doesn’t shy away from expressing everything that he’s thinking and feeling. He’s also a faithful chronicler of the other people he meets along the way, even when all he meets are the artifacts those people left behind. Griz has a detective’s talent for looking over a scene and understanding the story that created it. But he does occasionally lie to himself and to us, out of self-protection.
It’s rare to find a book in which the characters value their pets as equal members of the family as much as I do, but Griz does, and acts accordingly. Thematically, some interesting contrasts are drawn between the way various people treat each other and treat animals. The similarities in the way people take care of their possessions and the Earth is also noted. Though Griz and Brand are the main characters, there are several prominent female characters and the lives of women in this world are thoroughly explored.
There are some major twists near the end of the book that I won’t spoil. I’ll just say that I saw some parts coming, but not all, by any means. The ending is unpredictable, but it makes perfect sense given what’s come before. The story is much more than a coming of age journey and a battle of wits between Griz and Brand, but to say more is to give away too much.
By the end, I was totally in love with the characters and the book. Well, not all of the characters. Some of them really are fiends. But some are unlikely heroes who persevere against all odds and use unexpected methods to achieve success. Some quietly keep the faith and tend the hearth while the others run off to save their dog. There’s heroism in that as well.