The Little Dog Laughed by Jackie Sonnenberg
Age category: New Adult (Listed in both adult and YA categories)
Release Date: February 26, 2020
The Little Dog Laughed by Jackie Sonnenberg was one of those books where I understood what it was trying to do, but it couldn’t quite pull off the execution for me.
The story opens on Felicity, a teenager staying with her aunt and uncle and raising her infant after they’ve been kicked out by her judgmental parents. Felicity then meets Conrad, an aristocratic vampire, quickly falls in love, and decides almost as quickly that she can’t possibly tell him she’s a mother. This lie of omission gets dragged out when she’s asked to move in with him. She brings her son Issac with her, tells no one except one servant, and finds a rarely used room in the mansion to be the child’s bedroom. Issac grows up in almost complete isolation with Felicity only taking an interest in him when she discovers he has a rare blood type that the vampires crave.
Felicity is never meant to be a good person. Even at her kindest at the start of the story, she sees Issac not as an individual but as something inconvenient she needs to hide away. Again and again, her wants trump his needs. The twist of her marrying into a vampire family, and all that entails, only serves to make Issac’s neglect and abuse more vivid and horrifying with each progressing plot point. By the time Issac begins to show his own frightening side, the audience is already anticipating him taking Felicity down and more or less cheering him on.
The problem for me is that much of the story is narrated by Felicity, and she was simply not a character I wanted to be in the head of. It so incredibly hard to tell a story through the mind of a morally depraved character and still keep the audience engaged. It’s a valiant effort that just doesn’t quite pan out. Margaret, the household servant who helps Felicity hide Issac, also stood out as a problematic character. Her obedience to Felicity (over her loyalty of the rest of the family and Issac’s safety) makes little sense when she gives it at the start and only makes less sense as the novel continues. There is a repeated cycle of events between Margaret, Felicity, and Issac that always ends in Felicity ignoring any troubling signs and Margaret wringing her hands but taking no further action.
The book is classified on Netgalley as YA and described on Amazon as part of “a Young Adult/Horror collection re-imagining the classic nursery rhymes as horror stories.” It did not read as YA to me at all, and I would not classify it as such. There is a creeping sense of dread in the story, but it doesn’t have the urgency YA is so well known for, nor does it have a consistent teenage protagonist. There is no sense of finding one’s place in the world, another hallmark of YA literature. But all these things aside, the repeated scenes of child abuse and the graphic detail with which the gore is described would most certainly earn a mature rating on AO3 or any similar fiction-based website.
I would have been curious to see what this book could have been if it were re-envisioned as a novelette for adults, taking place over a shorter period of time, with Issac older and perhaps living elsewhere so as not to stretch readers’ suspension of disbelief so thin. Splitting the narration more evenly between Felicity and Issac from the beginning also could have produced some interesting results. I’m always up for books that keep the vampires monstrous, and The Little Dog Laughed did this well. I’m sorry to say I could not rate it higher, because I do think by Jackie Sonnenberg has talent. It was simply that this particular book did not land for me.
Rating: 2 out of 5
You can find The Little Dog Laughed on Goodreads
You can also buy The Little Dog Laughed on Amazon. (Affiliate link)