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!
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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.

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“Now that I’ve been sperminated…”

It has been a while since a book has inspired me to blog, and even longer since I have had a book I’ve been unable to put down and finished in a matter of days.

Trouble by Non Pratt:

‘Hannah is smart and funny.
She’s also fifteen and pregnant

Aaron is the new boy at school.
He doesn’t want to attract attention.

So why does Aaron offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby?’

This book takes you through the three trimesters of Hannah’s pregnancy, switching between Hannah and Aaron’s point of view. Both of their stories interlink but are also very different, and keep you guessing throughout. Be assured this is not another kooky Juno story (not that I am anti-Juno, I was just relieved this stood apart as its own story)

From the first page it is readable and, more importantly, believeable.

As a secondary school teacher, I observe and encounter the harsh realities of being a modern day teenager on a daily basis; from gross Public Displays of Affection in corridors (at which I regularly hurl the classic ‘don’t make me vomit up my lunch, get to lesson!!”), stories from weekend parties/gatherings and the reassuring smiles of BFFs, to friendship fall outs and the cruellest of cyber bullying. The characters and events in this book are so real you’d think Non had based this story on real teens.

The story flows so that you don’t even realise when 200+ pages have gone by. It will make you smile, cry, laugh and often make you cringe as you are reminded of your own teenage shenanigans as well, all in equal measure.

The love of being a parent, first loves, the ties that friendships form and all other forms of love and hate in between are presented beautifully, and make you grateful for the love that exists in your own life.

I wont go into much more detail about Hannah and Aaron’s story (never was a fan of spoilers, and it’s not a story I’d want to ruin for someone) but my favourite quote, ‘now that I’ve been sperminated’, is now my favourite phrase of all time, and this book has made it to my Bookshelf of Joy (all my faves are there) with ease.

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