Dead Ends

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Review

Dane Washington is the quick-tempered local bully, Billy D his new neighbour who has Down Syndrome.

The two boys wouldn't usually have much cause to mix, but then an unusual deal is struck. Dane is on the brink of being kicked out of school - and Billy D just might be able to help him gain a stay of execution. The teaching staff have quickly developed a soft spot for Billy (albeit one which manifests itself in a rather painfully patronising way). So if Dane will look out for Billy and stop other kids picking on him, the school principal will think twice about suspension.

Thus the two boys start to get to know each other - and to discover that they have more in common than they would have thought. For one thing, they are both all too readily labeled by society - but the reader soon discovers there is far more to each boy than a simple stereotype. Then there is the fact that both of them have absent fathers, something Billy for one is determined to rectify. Armed with Billy's precious US atlas, and with one half of the duo eminently more enthusiastic than the other, they set off on a road trip in a quest to unravel a chain of riddles Billy's father has concealed in the book.

Both characters are likeable and flawed in equal degrees, as an innocent-faced Billy deftly manipulates Dane into helping him on his mission, despite the latter's escalating sense of concern. Particularly effective is also the way Billy causes a usually self-assured Dane to question his own interpretations of justice and discrimination. For example, whilst Dane takes great delight in accusing others of treating Billy D differently, Billy points out that he's just as guilty himself, by having proudly declared that he 'doesn't pick on "special ed" kids'.

NB: It's worth noting that the language will undoubtedly grate for some - particularly Dane's incessant swearing and the use of words like 'retard' and 'freak'.

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