YOU are Mr Miyagi…

Dead Ends by Erin Lange

‘I had a foot on some guys throat and a hand in my pocket the first time I saw Billy D…’

Dane Washington and Billy D couldn’t be more different.

Dane is a bully. He says he has ‘standards’; he doesn’t hit girls, and he doesn’t hit special ed kids.

Billy D is too kind to hit anyone. He has Down’s syndrome and hangs out with teachers in his lunch break.

But one chance encounter leads them to realise that they have more in common than they think…

Erin Lange has an excellent knack for drawing the reader in from the first page. Her characters are all very unique and layered, pushing you to read on and find out more- with Dane and Billy D, this was certainly the case. Two very different characters, thrown together in a believable kind of way, which then leads you through a dramatic, funny, heart breaking and intriguing adventure.

It is about the journeys we take, literally and figuratively, and you’re reminded of this throughout by the little running man in the corner of the pages, which also act like a flip book, another little quirk!

I found Billy D particularly poignant, perhaps because I have a family member who has Down’s syndrome. The quirks and behaviours described in the book were very real to me, and often made me giggle, or smile knowingly as I thought of an event entirely different yet entirely the same as that I was reading. I loved that he hadn’t been portrayed as a victim, or someone who goes through life in a daze not fully engaged with the world. He also wasn’t portrayed as some kind of saint, he still had flaws and a sneakiness to him as well. As the story unfolds, you often forget Billy D is any ‘different’ to any other character, as you follow his personal journey as he attempts, sometimes unknowingly, to find answers to questions he doesn’t even realise he has.

I found Dane to be the classic ‘bad kid who’s not all that bad really’ kind of character, but I did like his stubbornness and the way his own values he’d created are challenged and righted, and not always just by Billy D. As a teacher, it reminded me again that often kids acting out in class have deeper issues outside of school that might drive them to behave in negative ways (something you may struggle to bear in mind when dealing with the fourth or fifth class of the day!)

This novel did cater for a lot of different minorities, and even touched on the issue of gay parents in a real and blunt fashion which I liked. Again, it’s all about it being believable, and the character reactions to this issue were very much what I’d expect to see from my students (both positive and negative; some accepting, some blurting out questions without thinking how to word it, some judging without meaning to) It also wasn’t dwelled upon, it was just another element of the characters story.

Erin writes in a way that as events pick up pace, so too does your reading speed as you race to keep up and find out what happens next, which was something I delighted in.

I felt a little guilty in that I was comparing this a lot to the first novel I read by Erin Lange, Butter, which I thoroughly loved. This was very different, to the point where I’ve now decided each should be judged on their own merit. I felt that this book touched on a lot of issues, and told a unique story that kept me guessing until the end.

This is a story about unlikely friendships, unanswered questions and being your own Mr Miyagi when times get tough; a book that can make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again in quick succession. It also leads you to wonder if any journey in life will really lead you to a truly dead end.