Monday, 20 January 2014
Review: When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Hardcover / eBook
Released: January 16th, 2013
Dylan Mint has Tourette's. For Dylan, life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in - the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that escapes whenever he gets stressed. And, as a sixteen-year-old virgin and pupil at Drumhill Special School, getting stressed is something of an occupational hazard. But then a routine visit to the hospital changes everything. Overhearing a hushed conversation between the doctor and his mother, Dylan discovers that he's going to die next March. So he grants himself three parting wishes: three 'Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It'. It isn't a long list, but it is ambitious, and he doesn't have much time. But as Dylan sets out to make his wishes come true, he discovers that nothing - and no-one - is quite as he had previously supposed.
The cover of When Mr Dog Bites proclaims it to be 'a story about life, death, love, sex and swearing'. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen a book described so well, as these five components really are what makes up the life of sixteen-year-old Dylan Mint.
It's a fairly straightforward story, a coming of age tale, if you will. Dylan Mint has Tourette's, he attends a special needs school and has a best friend called Amir. At a routine doctor's visit, Dylan overhears the doctor say that his life will come to an abrupt end in March, making him think he's going to die. With this in mind, he sets out to write a list of things to do before he dies - aptly titled 'Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It' - and begins his heartwarming, funny, profanity-laden mission.
I liked Dylan right from the beginning, thanks to his abundant use of swear words and a love of Cockney rhyming slang. He's different to other people his age, and he knows it, but he doesn't let his Tourette's ruin his life, or even hamper it really. He loves his mum, he writes to his dad who's away in the army and he's fiercely protective of his best bud Amir. Amir is bullied because of his race and skin colour, so Dylan looks out for him and stands up to anyone who so much as gives him a dodgy sideways glance. It's true friendship for these two, and that relationship is one of the book's many strong points. Dylan also has a crush on Michelle Malloy - the object of his sexual affection - and plans to seduce her, often with cringeworthy consequences.
When Mr Dog Bites is a great book that I read in one sitting. It's about family and friendships, and the fragility of life. Although Dylan has a disability - one that makes him shout, swear and tick in public - he never gives up on anything and really does take it in his stride. He's a fantastic role model for anyone in a similar situation, and he's a character that gets under your skin right from the get-go. I reached the end of this book after having laughed, gasped and teared up at this story and what Dylan faces on a daily basis. It's such a strong, important debut novel, and I have very high hopes for Brian Conaghan's future offerings!
* Please be aware that this book contains very strong language/content and is definitely not aimed at younger readers.