A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
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?
The author manages to make the protagonist -- and several other characters -- both memorable misfits and totally empathetic. 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).
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- 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
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.