Death and dying, weird illnesses, previously unheard-of diseases are currently pretty important topics in young adult literature, and young people seem to enjoy the frisson of reading about them, partly because they believe they are not really affected by them (yet).
Madeline (Maddy) Whittier is allergic to everything; in fact, she has a very rare disease known as SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, a rare but very real condition) which means she cannot leave her home and has never been outside in all her seventeen years of life. Looking after her (and hovering above her) is her mother with the help of Nurse Carla.
One day Olly moves into the neighbouring house, and Maddy falls in love with him. He, in turn, is fascinated by the mystery girl who only communicates with him by mail and who can occasionally be seen at the window. Making time for Olly means taking time away from Mum, and Maddy’s mother is clearly not happy with that change. One day Carla lets Olly in, and when Maddy’s mum finds out about that (and more), she is furious. All these years of being care and precautions seem to be jeopardized. And then one incident follows the other up to the surprise ending (quite a twist there), which I will let you read for yourselves, of course.
So if at the beginning you are thinking: oh no, not another one of those girl sick and dying-novels, you have another think coming. Yoon writes a captivating story changing narrative devices with great dexterity: notes, short passages, emails, lengthy descriptive passages all make for an entertaining and fast read. A great debut novel.
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 [i]The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time[/i] or Gantos' [i]Joey Pigza[/i] 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 [i]Motherless Brooklyn[/i]. Given the choice, we'd stick with [i]When Mr Dog Bites[/i]. It is definitely an unusual voice in young adult literature.