Dead Ends by Erin Lange
A new favourite YA author of mine who I really think should be getting just as much attention as the John Green’s and Rainbow Rowell’s of this world.
Dane and Billy couldn’t be more different. Dane’s a smart kid but with an attitude problem and a tendancy to hit out when he thinks someone’s looking down on him. Billy’s the kid with Downs syndrome who always carries an atlas and likes to hang out with the teachers at lunchtime. After Dane’s latest altercation though the two boys are thrown together and realise they have more in common than they thought – both their fathers are missing. Before he knows it, Dane’s helping Billy look for his dad and soon it’s just an atlas and a bunch of obscure riddles standing between the two boys and an emotional secret.
Your average light YA read from Erin Lange whose book Butter I read, reviewed and was left pondering my online savvyness by before. As with Butter, Lange hasn’t exactly been afraid to gloss over difficult topics in her latest read – kids who hit, the nature of bullying, Downs syndrome, fathers, missing fathers, single mothers, same-sex parents, growing up – you name it, she’s covered it!
With so much going on you wouldn’t be surprised to find that this is yet another YA read that makes you reconsider what you thought you knew. You think you know where your morality is, what your moral stand on certain situations is but then you read something like Dead Ends and poof! you’re left thinking ‘hang on a sec…’ and before you know it you’ve begun to doubt yourself. Well, in any case, that’s what it did for me. The more involved in Billy and Dane’s search I got, the more secrets that got uncovered, the more I got to know both the boys and I just kept finding myself doing that mental doubletake. A lot of bookish people say that books can change your mind and opinions on things but in my experience, that doesn’t happen as often as they says it does. Not every book will make me do a mental doubletake. I believe that Lange is for me rapidly becoming one of those authors though who does just that. Take Dane for instance. He’s the kid who hits but somehow manages to have principles about why he does it (although those principles seem to get muddy when he tries to explain them to Billy). He has a loving mum, he can have a friednly trelationship with others, is a bright enough kid – so why does he hit? Why is it he’s the school bully (although he’s somehow completely oblivious to what we the reader spot instantly)? Does this mean all bullies are like Dane and what does that mean for us when we just label them bullies?
You see what I mean about books making you rethink things? Lange has got it nailed. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is one of the reasons why she’s often compared to John Green, Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan et al. What I don’t get though is why these authors are all published over here in the UK predominantly in paperback and why Dead Ends came out first as a hardback. Yes, hardback’s are lovely and I’m guessing they net a bit more cash for the author (not being in publishing and all I wouldn’t know), but when all the contemporaries are being published in paperback it means in bookshops they’re all being put together in neat displays whilst Dead Ends has to be kept separate because it doesn’t fit. It was a hardback so it didn’t fit in with all the others, merchandising-wise or from a customer’s point of view. I know it’s out in paperback now (hooray!) but I do wonder if the decision to put it in hardback first might have hurt it, which considering how much I liked this book is something I really hope I’m wrong about.
My last point is that whilst this book does (happily) feature a character with a Downs in it, the Downs itself isn’t actually the main plot of the story. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that I love it when a book features someone other than your avergae kid but I especially love it when their lack of averageness is just a sidenote to the main plot, worthy of no more attention than any other description of them as a character. That’s what happens in Dead Ends, the main story is all about the missing fathers rather than Billy’s Down; it’s about Billy’s eager quest for his dad and Dane’s reluctant tromp after him. Billy’s Downs comes into it only insofar as Dane’s anger management issues do – it’s just a part of Billy, not the be all and end all of the hunt. With inclusion a hot topic at the moment in kids fiction I like to think this sort of book shows how it can be done right.
Like I said at the end of my review for Butter, this is an author I want to see more from. She makes me consider things again and as far as I’m concerned she’s one of those authors who’s on the right track when it comes to inclusion in books. I just really hope that I’m wrong about the whole hardback issue and that she’ll soon be right up there with the John Green’s and R. J Palacio’s she’s being compared to.
Find Dead Ends here.