This was my final read of 2016 and it was a good one to finish the year on. ‘When Mr Dog Bites’ is the story of 16 year old Dylan Mint. Dylan Mint lives with his mum. His Dad is ‘away’ at the war, he attends special school, his best friend is called Amir, Dylan has Tourettes.
For Dylan, life is a continuous battle, as he deals with the swearing the tics, the uncontrolled movements and trying to keep the dog at bay. The Dog emerges when Dylan gets overly fraught or stressed and it makes him howl and bark. In addition to this Dylan has discovered he is going to die, in March. In response to this discovery he comes up with his ‘things to do before I cack it list’. The three things on his list are 1) Get dad back from the war, 2) Have sexual intercourse with a girl, preferably Michelle Malloy, 3) Protect Amir and find him a new ‘best bud. As you might imagine, achieving these is not a straight forward process.
This is written in Dylan’s voice and his voice is funny, and warm and unique. His internal thought process is brought to life on the page. His odd phrases and dialogue often made me laugh out loud, and I was often moved by his day to day struggles.
“Marvin Gayes ‘let’s get it on is on pause and ready to spring into action. I’d put a twenty watt light bulb in my bedside lamp – twenty’s plenty and all that. And I have two boxes of Pringles a box of Maltese’s and a bottle of Irn-bru on the sideboard for mega munchies and debrief afterwards”
Dylan was my favourite character but Amir and Dylan’s Mum rivalled for second place. Dylan’s Mum is clearly overworked, and stressed, struggling to make ends meet. And yet she is strong and kind. Despite her frequent exasperation with Dylan the love and affection between them is clear and there is no doubt she would fight tooth and nail to protect him.
The relationship between Dylan and Amir is the one that made me laugh most. I have no idea how teenage boys communicate but I suspect that some of the puerile humour played out between them is pretty accurate and I suspect this is so because Brian Conaghan is a teacher and also has Tourettes Syndrome himself.
When Mr Dog Bites is authentic, believable, heartwarming, and funny and it had me rooting for the central character, an excellent way to conclude me reading year.