When Mr. Dog Bites - Brian Conaghan

Dylan Mint battles Tourette's on a daily basis--the swearing, tics, howling, and inescapable desires to run away from stressful situation. When he visits the hospital with his mother one day, however, he hears some news that makes him very, very worried. He thinks he's going to die by the time March rolls around. Upon this rather terrifying discovery, Dylan makes a brief list of three things he wants to do before he dies:

1) Have sex with Michelle Malloy;
2) Get people to stop calling his friend, Amir, names because of the color of his skin;
3) To get his dad back from the war before, well, you know-know-what happens.

It doesn't sound like much, but for Dylan Mint, this is a lifetime of work, and adding his outbursts and tics to the mix makes it just that much more difficult.
When I first realized I wasn't able to talk too well, it felt as though I'd swallowed an eight ball (not the drug), and as if my windpipe would explode if I tried to say anything.
Conaghan has created a voice in Dylan that I have to say I haven't come across before. At least, I've never read a book from the perspective an individual with Tourette's. His life in Drumhill Special School is not enjoyable by any means. The only thing getting him through the days is his best bud Amir and his desire to have "real sexual intercourse" with Michelle.

The narrative voice of Dylan is wonderfully wrought, full of pain, desire, anxiety, and naivety. The reader will be able to understand that there is more going on than Dylan fully understands, and it is this subtlety that really makes Conaghan's writing so incredible, to me at least. His understanding of his mother's relationship with the taxi man and the doctor's revelations early in the novel, are heartbreakingly—but understandably—off.
With my quick rapido thinking powers I cracked it. When the doc said, "prepare him for the inevitable," I didn't need to be the Bourne Identity or Mr. T.J. Hooker to figure out what the bloody hell was going on. I hadn't reached the point of being totally scunnered, but I surely would have if I hadn't been ace at figuring things out.
What I love about this book is that even though Dylan is naive and he doesn't always fully understand social situations, he truly cares for his his best bud, and tries to protect him at every turn. His understanding of racism as a terrible thing really does make the book work in remarkable ways, and make Dylan totally loveable through all the craziness, swearing, and lusting after Michelle Malloy.

I did find myself wondering about the authenticity of the voice, but after reconsidering everything, and thinking hard about why I wasn't sure, I came to realize it was really just because of my own lack of familiarity with some of the references and written dialect. Overall, though, I really did find myself caring more for Dylan and his mother throughout the course of the book. 

I'm incredibly glad that I took the emotional journey with Dylan through to the end of this intriguing book, exploring the experiences of a young man dealing with Tourette's, racism, bullying, and other difficulties that are a part of the lives of many young people.


(Note: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out in North America June 10, 2014)


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