When Mr. Dog Bites

 
Surprisingly hilarious book about teen with Tourette's.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teens will learn about Tourette's syndrome as well as other conditions, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This book also could lead to discussions about racism, how to treat people with disabilities, and more. Readers may be intrigued by Dylan's idea to create a list of things to do before he dies.

Positive messages

There's a lesson here about tolerance and acceptance as Dylan reminds readers, "I didn't ask to have [Tourette's]...You can't catch it like sneezes. You don't get it because you have been bad or are ugly or something -- you're just born with it."

Positive role models

Dylan doesn't always act perfectly -- he lies to his mother, for example -- but he's a loyal friend who stands up for Amir when people are racist toward him and tells off his dad after he learns he used to hit Dylan's mom. He's also an example of someone living with a mental challenge, learning to accept himself, and learning to have a good life.

Violence

Dylan gets into some altercations, both physical and verbal, and is harassed and threatened by boys at a park. He's upset when he learns that his father used to treat his mother like a "human punching bag." 

Sex

There's talk about sexy teens and teachers, sexy thoughts at night, and masturbation -- and Dylan puts wanting to have sex with a girl on the list of things to do before he dies. Also, a girl spends the night with a boy, two teen boys go to the store to buy condoms, and a boy has sex with a girl when he's left alone in the house, though not much is described beyond kissing. A woman gets pregnant after rekindling a romance with a man through Facebook.  

Language

Lots of swearing, as well as racist words against Dylan's Pakistani friend, and offensive words about women and gay people. As part of Dylan's Tourette's syndrome, he involuntarily uses a lot of ugly words when talking to people, including "c--k," "c--t," "s--t," and more. 

Consumerism

Converse, Adidas, Coke, Fanta, Facebook, Cup Noodles, Applebee's, TGI Friday's, plus some references to music and television shows.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A boy brings alcohol to a school dance, and a girl shows up there very messed up after drinking and smoking marijuana. Dylan's dad often drinks too much at the pub, and Dylan suspects two boys who harass him at the park are drinking and on drugs. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that When Mr. Dog Bites is about a British teen boy with Tourette's syndrome. Readers will learn about other conditions, including autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Main character Dylan's a loyal friend who stands up for Amir when people are racist toward him, and he tells off his dad after he learns he used to hit his mom. He also says, "I didn't ask to have [Tourette's]...You can't catch it like sneezes. You don't get it because you have been bad or are ugly or something -- you're just born with it." There's lots of swearing, as well as racist words against Dylan's Pakistani friend, and offensive words about women and gay people. As part of Dylan's Tourette's syndrome, he involuntarily uses a lot of ugly words (including "c--k," "c--t," "s--t," and more​) ​when talking to people. Dylan gets into some altercations, both physical and verbal, and is harassed and threatened by boys at a park. He's upset when he learns that his father used to treat his mother like a "human punching bag."  There's talk about sexy teens and teachers, sexy thoughts at night, and masturbation -- and Dylan puts wanting to have sex with a girl on the list of things to do before he dies. Also, a girl spends the night with a boy, two teen boys go to the store to buy condoms, and a boy has sex with a girl when he's left alone in the house, though not much is described beyond kissing. A boy brings alcohol to a school dance, and another girl shows up there very messed up after drinking and smoking marijuana. Dylan's dad often drinks too much at the pub, and Dylan suspects two boys who harass him at the park are drinking and on drugs. 

Kids say

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What's the story?

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Mint has Tourette's syndrome, which makes him shout out swear words, growl like a dog, and more. When he overhears a doctor telling his mother, "Come March, life as he knows it will come to an abrupt end," he believes he's going to die and starts making a list of things to do in the next few months, including have sex with a cute classmate at the school he attends in Scotland for kids with mental and physical challenges, help his friend Amir get a new best bud, and get his secret agent dad back from the war. But as Dylan starts to work through his list, nothing seems to work out exactly as he hopes it will -- after all, it's pretty hard to ask a girl out on a date when you can't quit screaming demeaning names at her. But, although Dylan has to face some harsh truths, he stays a loyal friend and son who tries to do the right thing. Ultimately, this helps him work toward a pretty good ending for himself.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

WHEN MR. DOG BITES deals with some serious issues, including kids with some intense mental and physical challenges. But Dylan's offbeat and honest outlook on the world -- often told in dialogue or through Cockney rhyming slang and other expressions -- makes this a surprisingly fast-paced and funny read. Readers will be both cringing and laughing as poor Dylan asks out Michelle, for example, all the while apologizing for the names he's calling her (she, meanwhile, has oppositional defiant disorder, making her reaction rather hostile).

The author manages to make the protagonist -- and several other characters -- both memorable misfits and totally empathetic. Readers certainly will be rooting for Dylan, even while they suspect he doesn't have exactly the right read on what's going on around him.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Tourette's syndrome. What do you think about the way Dylan's condition is presented in the book?

  • Were you surprised that a book about something so serious also could be funny? What do you make of the tone?

  • Dylan and his friends have a list of things to do before they die. Would you ever make a list like this? If so, what would be on it?

Book details

Author:Brian Conaghan
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, High school, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:June 10, 2014
Number of pages:368
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 18
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of When Mr. Dog Bites was written by

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Learning ratings

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator and Parent Written byJoolsgranny March 26, 2015
age 14+
 

Memorable story

After a while you get over the use of bad language when reading the story, but it's use is appropriate as that's what you get with Tourette's. Every now and then the language does pull you up short. And so it should. Dylan is a lovely character and you really feel for him and his friend Amir. The story takes place in Glasgow, on a tough estate, with the mix of people you would find there and feels very realistic. We are appalled, along with Dylan, at the racial prejudice that Amir suffers. Dylan is at the hospital with his mum and overhears the doctor talk to his mother about life as they know it changing forever in March. Dylan takes this to mean that he is going to die in March and creates a 'Cool things to do before I cack it' list. This includes having sex with a girl and finding a new 'best bud' for his friend Amir. Although the story contains a lot of sexual references, we are talking about 16 year old boys here, the extreme use of language is mostly used in Dylan's outbursts, that he is trying desperately to control and feels very embarrassed about. The boys still have an air of naivety and innocence about the world around them, but they are made more aware through the story. Dylan and Amir have a definite moral code, where friendship and loyalty reign supreme. I loved the characters, the humour and the story.

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