Author: Erin Jade Lange
Genre: contemporary, young adult
Published: September 3 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
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.
Dead Ends is a different sort of book. It's not brash and loud, but it's not exactly a quiet story either. Lange's characters are fairly unique and the story spun around them is fresh, if not wholly involving. Tying together two very different and unlikely main characters, Lange's sophomore effort touches on another of of today's key issues: bullying. Dead Ends isn't the most obvious choice to pick for a fast read, but it suffices to entertain while making a point, all without preaching to her audience.
The characters shown in the novel were decent, on the whole. Billy, a kid with high functioning Downs Syndrome, and Dane, a bully with "standards" obviously receive the most time and attention. With serviceable writing, Lange illustrates her main characters with humor, selfishness, anger, and sadness. Both young men are adrift, both are missing their fathers, and they are thrown together under rather unrealistic circumstances, but Lange sells it. Where the characters fall apart is when the story focuses outside of these two: Dane's mother is nonsensical, and Seely, the love interest, needs a bit of development.
The writing isn't too noteworthy, but Lange can hold the reader's attention. It's decent enough, and the main storyline will keep readers curious, it's just that there is not a lot to grab onto and care about here. The small mystery about Billy's dad adds another layer to the two young men's stories, but in the end, it all falls a bit flat.
Not many books, especially in YA - chose to focus on a bully and a special needs child for their main characters. Dead Ends deserves some recognition for showcasing two largely-ignored POVs. I just wish the story framing them had more depth, and didn't come together so haphazardly. I was somewhat disappointed that Dead Ends failed to evoke much emotion from me. I'm left without a lot to say about it, because while it's not a great book, it's also going to prove to not be all that memorable, either.