Dead Ends by Erin Lange
Review by M
Dead Ends is a story that is as much about bullying, friendship and family as it is an unusual teen road trip adventure with plot threads and themes aplenty.
An unusual and forced relationship is at the heart of the story. Dane (the violent bully with a single mum who frames winning Lottery cards), is wisely chosen by Billy D (the new kid on the block who also has Down syndrome) to be his protector in school. As Billy D holds all the cards, a heartwarming (and frequently comic) friendship develops as he reels Dane in on a journey to find both their dads.
The novel cleverly intertwines an exploration of different relationships (and power). The obvious relationship is that of bully and bullied but teenage friendship and being a good and ‘real’ parent are also prominent. Both Billy D and Dane live with their mothers but their fathers are curiously absent. Another character, however, has two fathers who are gay - and neither one is her biological father.
While Dane is a bully and a very violent one, the novel’s tone is fiercely warm. Lange manages to paint Dane as a sympathetic and believable character - but she doesn’t let him entirely off the hook. She paints a very interesting view of bullying.
While friendship and family are at this novel’s heart, Dead Ends will also likely appeal to clue-finding road trip fans. These elements add charm and action but neither of them dominate the novel. What could have become a ludicrous storyline actually works out to be enjoyable, believable, and quite moving.
Publication details: 6 January 2014, Faber and Faber, London, hardbackThis copy: uncorrected proof from the publisher