Saturday, 20 June 2015

LBOY2015 Shortlist Review #4: 'When Mr Dog Bites' by Brian Conaghan

'When Mr Dog Bites' by Brian Conaghan


Hilariously touching and outrageously unforgettable: Mark Haddon's Christopher Boone meets Holden Caulfield on one *#@! of a journey. . .

Dylan Mint has Tourette's. Being sixteen is hard enough, but Dylan's life is a constant battle to keep the bad stuff in - the swearing, the tics, the howling dog that seems to escape whenever he gets stressed... But 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 or 'Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It'. 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.


When Mr Dog Bites is the second novel from rising talent Brian Conaghan and similar to his debut is a novel with wide crossover appeal between adult and YA fiction. The book is shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year award and is in exceptional company alongside many wonderful YA novels. When Mr Dog Bites is a pleasant addition to the list as it is not strictly just a YA novel; it was simultaneously marketed with an adult cover and contains complex adult relationships alongside the teen characters.

Our narrator is Dylan Mint a 16-year old teen with Tourettes syndrome in his last year at his high school for teens with difficulties. Dylan is attending a routine visit at the hospital when he overhears from his doctor that he has only got six months to live. Determined to make these months count, Dylan creates a list of desires to fulfil before he passes on. His first wish is to have sexual intercourse with Michelle Molloy, his second to help his best friend Amir who is constantly bullied by racist cretins and lastly to get his dad back from the army to see him before he dies.

Dylan is an exceptional narrator and intriguing voice, I’ve not read a book from the point of view of a character with Tourettes and Conaghan brings such depth and clarity to his character that I immediately empathisde with Dylan. The results are honest, heart-breaking and hysterical - I loved Dylan’s attempts to speak to Michelle yet his nerves make him yell obscenities at her causing her to threaten him with violence. Or when Dylan tries to correct racist taunts by pointing out that the two insults are from different ethnicities and therefore can’t be used together.

When Mr Dog Bites is an exceptionally well-written book, observant, clever and engaging, I was completely swept away in the story. Due to its unflinching and vivid portrayal of its wide range of characters with various disabilities, the book is also educational and enlightening and I left the book with a greater understanding of Tourette’s Syndrome. A friend of mine who works in a high school library described this book to me as the best book she couldn’t have in her library (due to the swearing as her school has a no-swearing policy) and I think this realistic language and racism might limit the book’s appeal to the younger choosers of this prize as it’s a more challenging read than many books on the list. However it is a worthy contender for the prize and I would be pleased to see it win as it’s a book that deserves wider recognition. 

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
Sarah Nuttall

Sarah is an active contributor for the YAfictionados blog site. She has written posts for the Waterstones blog and has worked as a bookseller (for 9 years), a Children's bookseller (for 6 years) and is now a manager at her local bookstore. Needless to say, Sarah is a valued member of the YAfictionados team - a true Children's and YA literature expert.

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