Dane is not Mr. Miyagi. Or Sherlock Holmes.

Cover art for Dead EndsTitle: Dead Ends

Author: Erin Jade Lange

Publisher & Release Date: Bloomsbury, September 2013

The Hook: Straight from the teaser – a bully and a boy with Down syndrome form a partnership and then a friendship.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Dane is one suspension away from the dead end of expulsion. Billy does not think special ed is a dead end. They both live on the dead-end, have-not side of town.

“A bully and a boy with Down syndrome. It’s the unlikeliest of partnerships, but Billy needs Dane’s help. He is sure the riddles left in an atlas are really clues to finding his dad again, and he convinces Dane to join the search. Together they work through the clues, 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.”

Overall Impressions:  I tore through this book, caught up in Dane and Billy D’s stories.

The jacket summary makes it sounds as if Billy D tells the story – making me think just a little of Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” – but Dane narrates.

Dane has strict rules – he’ll only hit someone (and never a girl or someone with a disability) if he’s asking for it. Trouble is, it doesn’t take much for him to feel a guy’s doing just that. We meet Dane when he’s beating up a guy who we learn was mocking him for not having a car. He lets a determined Billy D into his life begrudgingly. Their path to friendship is kind of a staggering one step forward, one step sideways, one step in random direction – for Dane, Billy D starts out as a way to get out of trouble at school while Billy D sees him as a possible guide/guard/help. Dane’s got a chip on his shoulder the size of car; Billy D has a fixation on finding his father. Dane verbally blows up at Billy D more than once; Billy D has a tendency to focus on things past the point of reason and well past Dane’s tolerance. Also, Billy D has never met a question he won’t ask.

The quest for Billy D’s father turns into one for Dane’s too. Absent fathers drive both boys, but in different ways.

The characters are great, fully built, and their complexity in how they react to other people believable. Lange crafted a tightly woven story.

I did see Billy D’s secret coming, but Lange handled it really well, and it’s understandable that Dane doesn’t.

The Highs: The slow growth of Dane and Billy D’s friendship, how they come to matter to one another and for Dane, Billy D becomes someone he wants to protect. Which doesn’t always work out that well, and that feels true to life.

Seely, who skateboards and works on cars, and calls both Dane and Billy on their bad behavior. She’s all-around awesome.

The relationship between Dane and his mother, who had him when she was still in high school. They may fight sometimes, but they’re a mother-son unit and they love each other. Lange chooses really interesting pieces of backstory to show their history. There’s a really awkward and painful but lovely scene where Dane is asking her about his father (not a flashback).

I love the cover.

Buzzkills:  Dane grows a lot in this story. Some of his attitudes about women still have room for improvement. There’s a kind of funny but mostly horrible scene involving Dane, Billy D and Marjorie.

The Source: Public library.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or a road trip was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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