Tom lives with his father and their lodger, Phil. Mum is absent, presumably not long gone. She phones every morning, but Tom refuses to talk to her. When Dad brings home a gangly puppy, it feels like the first and best good thing to happen to Tom in a long time and he names the puppy Spider. Tom is an unhappy, confused and angry boy, a scholarship student being mercilessly bullied in his new school as he tries to navigate life sans Mum. While Spider inadvertently makes things worse for him with his father and school, the pair are inseparable. For Tom, Spider makes life bearable.

Unfortunately, Spider is an innocent undergoing an identity crisis. Is he a dog or a cat? What is his purpose in life? Maliciously misled by a spider called Thread and a cat called Moonlight, both of whom he believes are his friends, Spider ends up miserably lost and on his way to being turned into pet food. Risking everything to find him, Tom discovers his own strength. Spider, meanwhile, discovers his purpose – to protect Tom at all costs.

It’s a tight, tense read. At times, it felt unremittingly bleak. There aren’t a whole pile of kind characters in this story. Those that exist, such as an adorable fox, don’t last long. This may mean it will resonate with readers in the age group facing their own difficulties. Everything does work out but be warned, it only gets better, for Spider and then Tom, very close to the end.