Book cover

When Mr Dog Bites

Level 1

CONAGHAN, Brian

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 2014

OUTSIDERS | ILLNESS | FRIENDSHIP | BULLYING

Life is not easy for Dylan Mint, aged 16, because he suffers from Tourette syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary repetitive movements or vocalisations called tics). He has to attend a school for kids with special needs, is being bullied and made fun of, stands no chance with the girls and misses his father, who he believes is on a special mission in the Iraq war.

By accident he overhears a hospital doctor saying to his mother that Dylan's life as he knows it will be over in five months. Dylan concludes that he has only got a short time to live and makes up a modest to-do list. The three items are: have real sex with Michelle Malloy (who doesn't give a damn about him), help his best friend Amir find a new best friend, and get Dad back from the war.

None of these wishes seem to work out - not even the best friend thing with Amir, who suffers from Asperger's and is exposed to a lot of racist comments from bullies all around, because his parents are from Pakistan.

Unfortunately, we know which way the wind is blowing long before Dylan does; even though the book looks like another "you're-going-to-die-soon" young adult novel it turns out to be a mental-issues novel, similar to Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or Gantos' Joey Pigza series.

But otherwise it is a pure pleasure to read. Dylan is a totally likeable character, honest and well-educated in his own specific way. And even though the affliction itself might be tragic, it is highly entertaining to read about Dylan's battle with words and his many efforts to keep Mr Dog in and avoid all the bad words. (As for foul language - of course, it has been suggested to give it a PG, Parental Guidance, tag, but fortunately enough, nobody took that seriously).

The only novel featuring Tourette syndrome that we have read is Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn. Given the choice, we'd stick with When Mr Dog Bites. It is definitely an unusual voice in young adult literature.