I'm going to be honest. I was not expecting to like Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange as much as I did. I read it in my quest to find more books to recommend to my high school students, and found myself completely caught up in the story and characters.
Dane Washington is one
suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a
“have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead
end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not
exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad.
Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues
to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane
into joining him on the search.
A bully and a boy with Down
syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but 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.
Bullying is the latest "issue" craze in books. I am already growing tired of it, but Lange did not make this a book about bullying. Dane beats up kids, but it is hard to paint him with the bully brush. He is far more complex than that simple word can even come close to conveying. He is not easy to like. He beats up people. He uses words that are not PC. His thoughts and attitude towards girls are not always appropriate or nice. Yet he does have standards. He won't just hit anyone. He loves and protects his mother. He is loyal, smart, and wants something better for himself. In other words he is as typically complicated as any average teenage boy. He's growing up in tough circumstances and has a lot of rough edges. With his sense of humor, sense of justice (distorted though it is), and dreams, I couldn't help but love him. Billy is also not completely likeable. AND I LOVE THAT. I love that Lange didn't try to make him the poor Special Ed kid who brings the bad kid around with all of his sweetness and light. Billy knows how to work his disability. He lies and manipulates. At the same time, he is vulnerable and in need of a friend. He too has a great sense of humor and hopes and dreams for the future. The friendship that develops between the two is a real one, reluctant though Dane is to begin it. They each see the faults and strengths in the other. They both try to be protective and helpful in their own ways.
The plot is not fast paced or adventurous. This is a slower book. One that brings out the boys characters. It does have a puzzle, a mystery, and a road trip. This all revolves around missing fathers. Billy is desperate to find and see his dad again. He hasn't seen him since his mom took him and left. Dane has never known his father, and claims vehemently that he doesn't want to. Both boys are sort of lost, looking for answers and direction. There are so many times when they should have talked to their mothers and come up with excuses for why they shouldn't. Dane especially. Because Lange shows this process, it is believable.
This is a great story that demonstrates the complexities of personality, friendship, and life.
Content: There are some make out scenes, Dane alludes to a few girls in a lewd manner, and strong language used.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury USA, via NetGalley. Dead Ends is available for purchase on September 3.