Title: Dead Ends
Author: Erin Lange
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Coming of Age
Format Read: ARC, 326 pages
Publication Date: 6th February 2014 by Faber & Faber Australia
Synopsis: “A riddle rarely makes sense the first time you hear it. The connection between Dane and Billy D doesn’t make sense any time you hear it. But it’s a collection of riddles that brings these two unlikely friends together. Dane Washington lives by two rules: don’t hit girls and don’t hit special kids. Billy D has Down syndrome and thinks a fierce boy who won’t hit him could come in useful. Billy D has a puzzle to solve, after all, and he has the perfect plan to make Dane help him. Billy is sure the riddles in his atlas are really clues left by his missing dad. Together, Billy and Dane must embark on an epic road trip, although most of the clues lead to dead ends. What Dane doesn’t realize is that Billy D isn’t as innocent as he seems and the biggest secret is hidden close to home…
A powerful, breathtaking coming-of-age novel about friendship, family and the journey of a lifetime by the critically acclaimed author of Butter.” (Taken from Goodreads)
When an author gets compared to John Green and RJ Palacio, it takes your expectations to a whole new level. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, and I’m happy to say that Erin Lange blew my expectations out of the water. Dead Ends follows a boy named Dane who’s a bully to put it simply. But this bully has his own set of rules as well – he doesn’t hit girls or special kids. A bully with a conscience basically (but still a bully, which is a big no-no). One day, Dane meets the new boy from across the street, who he finds following him to school and confronts him about his stalking. This boy turns out to be Billy D, a kid with Down Syndrome who’s looking for his missing dad and the answer to the question: “Why do people hit?”
I found this story to be extremely well written. The characters were all realistic, and had problems that were greater than the cliched issues we sometimes encounter in many contemporary novels. It was a book about diversity, and how people handled it when confronted with the issue. I must say, Lange really hit the nail on the head with the way she interwove two completely different lives and created an unexpected friendship between Dane and Billy D.
In an effort to stay out of trouble – and from being expelled – Dane agrees to help Billy D out with defending himself from other bullies and to find Billy D’s amazing dad. Having no dad of his own, Dane gets enraptured by the prospect of this saintly man who Billy D describes as a prodigal dad. They follow the riddles left in Billy D’s atlas that has them flipping through the American states, taking a journey towards discovering what friendship and family really means.
I really enjoyed the dynamic between Dane and Billy D. But I will admit that some of the things Billy D did was very manipulative. This sounds horrible to say, and I know I’m probably a horrible person for saying it, which is why I did some research on DS prior to writing this review. I read the personal blogs of family members that admitted people with DS could sometimes be manipulative…as well as very good liars. This trait frustrated me about Billy D, and I felt bad for not liking him for it. Then I thought, wait, but isn’t the whole message behind this book to treat people with disabilities the same as others? By victimising them, and feeling bad about one of their annoying traits (which you wouldn’t feel bad about hating on a character without disability mind you), basically defeats the whole message this book is trying to get across to its readers.
This got me thinking about diversity books in general. I enjoy diverse books and it’s so wonderful to pick up a book that features a range of different characters and settings. But I don’t go out of my way to read a diverse book because its main selling point is because it’s diverse. I pick up a book because it interests me, and if it’s filled with diverse content, then yay!
So I’m not afraid to say now that Billy D annoyed me at times. He was a wonderful character, and I thoroughly enjoyed his part in this novel. But the way he manipulated Dane was awful, and I don’t condone it. At all.
[toggle]Billy D essentially uses blackmail to force Dane to help him find his dad. When he figures out the last riddle left to him by his dad, leading him to a certain location, Billy D pretends to be sick and about to die, forcing Dane to drive him there right away. Doing this meant Dane would be expelled for missing school, and even though Billy D knew about the consequences, he forced Dane to do it anyway without letting him consult with an adult first.[/toggle]
Other than that little negative, I really, really enjoyed this book. I found the atlas and the riddles left by Billy D’s dad to be extremely creative. Solving a riddle led them to another state where there was another riddle. It seems like such a fun and unique concept to me. I loved the time Dane and Billy D spent together trying to solve the riddles, and you can really see the way their friendship develops over this course of time.
Overall, this is a highly recommended book. It shows you a different side to a bully/victim story, and teaches you about friendship and family. Lange does a wonderful job in conveying the message she wants the reader to take from this book, and I’m thankful to have learnt from it. I will definitely be reading more of her work soon.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.