I received this book for free from Faber and Faber in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange
Published by Faber and Faber on 6th February 2014
Genres: Bullying, Friendship, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
Source: Faber and Faber
A riddle rarely makes sense the first time you hear it. The connection between Dane and Billy D doesn’t make sense the second time you hear it. But it’s a collection of riddles that solidifies their unusual friendship. Dane is a bully with two rules: don’t hit girls and don’t hit special kids. Billy D has Down syndrome. When Dane doesn’t hit him, Billy sees a sign of friendship and reaches out for help. Billy is sure the riddles his missing father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him. Together, Billy and Dane piece them together, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping. As a journalist, Erin Jade Lange is inspired by hot button issues like bullying, but it is her honest characters and breakneck plotting that make Dead Ends a must-read.
Review: I had heard a lot about Erin Lange’s debut, Butter, last year but not had a chance to read it so when I read about Dead Ends, I was intrigued. I love contemporary YA and road-trip novels too and this sounded like an ideal read for me.
Troubled with a bad temper, Dane is this close to being suspended. Billy D is new in his neighbourhood, well liked by his teachers, well behaved and he also has Down’s Syndrome. When the two strike up an unlikely alliance to help Dane with his school problems, Billy D asks Dane to help him find his father in exchange. However this isn’t as easy as it may first appear and also involved decrypting several clues to strangely named towns in an old atlas.
I really liked the fact that although Billy D had Down’s Syndrome this was not his defining characteristic or trait and that Lange didn’t singularly focus on this about him or present him as a downtrodden victim. Billy D was a great character to read and very well-developed, he was strong and funny and honest. I loved seeing the growing friendship between Billy and Dane as the book progressed.
Both Dane and Billy have absent fathers and this has had a significant impact on each character, with Dane not actually knowing who his father is and Billy missing his father who seems to have vanished. I thought this theme was thoughtfully written and poignant. Dane’s anger and resentment at not knowing who his dad is, and his mother’s refusal to talk about it, is a possible trigger for his anger and this is believable. I liked that Dane grew throughout the novel though and began to realise that he was turning into a bully.
I loved that the secondary characters all had individual traits and characteristics; Dane’s mum and the lottery tickets and Seely and the car, for example. The only character who I felt was less developed was Billy’s mother and I didn’t really feel I saw a clear personality from her beyond being Billy’s parent.
There were some developments in the plot I won’t spoil but I hadn’t anticipated at the start that really enhanced the book. Dead Ends is a beautifully written, thoughtful novel that by the end had really pulled at my heartstrings. I definitely recommend this book and I think fans of contemporary YA will really find a lot within this book.
I received a free proof copy from Faber for reviewing purposes. My review is honest and its tone and content unaffected by the means in which I received the book.