Book Review

Dead Ends by Erin Lange.

I know I said no more reviews for a while, but I wrote this one towards the end of last year before I’d decided to take a reviewing break so I thought I would share it today – publication day for Dead Ends. After all, what’s the point of making rules that can’t be bent a little?

imageDane Washington and Billy D. couldn’t be more different. Dane is clever and popular, but he’s also a violent rebel. Billy D. has Down’s syndrome, plays by the rules and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But Dane and Billy have more in common than they think – both their fathers are missing.

They’re going to have to suck up their differences and get on with helping each other. There are answers to be found.

Powerful, funny, moving – the ultimate coming-of-age novel.

This book is really deceptive. You start reading it expecting it to be about two boys working together on a treasure hunt, and the fact that one of the boys has Down Syndrome leads you to expect this will inevitably play some part in the story. You’re right of course, but you also get so much more that you’re not expecting and it leaves you thinking about it after you’ve stopped reading, and wondering how on earth you’re going to convey your thoughts about the book in a coherent manner. Or that was my reading experience in any case.

The book is narrated by Dane. He’s a wonderfully grey character, he has anger management issues and a very specific way of seeing the world but then at the same time is a good student with clear goals and future plans. In an early chapter he explains how he is getting increasingly close to being excluded from school and sent to the other school in the area which is tantamount to a dumping ground – he’s desperate for this not to happen, but he’s very aware that his temper is likely to overrule his desire to stay in school.

We see Billy D, the other main character of the book, solely through Dane’s eyes. This doesn’t stop Billy D from seizing his rightful share of the narrative, he’s a well written character and based on my experiences a decent portrayal of a teen with Down Syndrome – including the fact that he too is a grey character, whilst he’s hugely likeable he also has some less appealing character traits.

The major plotline is the focus on Billy’s mission to find his father, he has an atlas with clues to oddly named towns across America and believes he’ll find his father by solving the clues. He involves Dane in the solving and following of this trail, offering in turn to help Dane to find his absent father though this is something Dane does not want to do. I liked the clue solving aspect of the plot, and the focus on unusual place names appealed to my word loving brain. This story twists and turns, some of the reveals along the way are real jolts – each adding another layer of depth to the story.

Throughout the book Billy D challenges Dane; the way he acts, the language he uses, the very way he sees the world. There is always a danger when you have a character becoming friends with a character with a disability that the latter becomes relegated to purely being in the story in order for the main character to go on some sort of redemptive personal journey. There are of course elements of this at play in this book, but whilst yes Dane does develop as a result of his friendship with Billy D, Billy also develops as a result of his friendship with Dane. The author tries her absolute best to avoid falling into the cliches often seen in books featuring characters with disabilities and the book is a really positive read as a result. There is some occasional use of ableist language, but this both feels true to the narrative and really jars with the reader – I think this will leave readers thinking about their own views and attitudes and those of the people around them.

One of the facets I liked best about this book was that this story reinforces the fact that actions have consequences. Both of the boys in this story make bad choices, often for good reasons but poor decisions all the same, and they have to bear the consequences of these choices. This results in the book having a realistic, believable and satisfying conclusion rather than a fairytale style neat ending.

This book is an excellent read, there’s so much to take from it, and I think every reader will find something to identify with. I know I’m going to be pressing my copy into the hands of other readers, I want everyone to spend time with Dane and Billy D.

Dead Ends is published by Faber Children’s. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all opinions expressed are my own.

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