When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan


When Mr Dog Bites has been shortlisted for the 2015 Carnegie Prize. The book is about a 16 year old boy called Dylan who suffers from Tourette’s. This difficult and tough subject matter goes some way to explaining why it has been shortlisted for this prestigious prize. However I found myself torn when I finished the book. It is well written and engaging, the reader learns about Tourette’s and stops to think about the way society views and treats people like Dylan. So why was I torn?

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The main issue for me was the way Dylan was portrayed. Dylan talks in an unusual way which is not a part of his Tourette’s. He loves rhyming slang and it peppers his conversation, sometime making it hard to follow what he is saying. Although this is funny, it can also grate a bit and it seems a bit unusual for a 16 year old. Equally unusual is the descriptive language he uses – it is vivid, over the top and whacky for a teenager. For example he compares Amir’s squeal with a ‘a cat being gang-raped by some dingoes’. Dylan’s preoccupation with girls and sex is to be expected but again the language he uses jars – ‘do the jiggy’ – is this the way a sixteen year old speaks? Furthermore, Dylan comes across as a fairly clever boy but his vocabulary is dated – how many 16 year olds use words like ‘loolaa’, ‘jeepers creepers’, ‘hooter’ etc. Overall there seems to be a contradiction between the fact that Dylan is being portrayed like any other boy his age (i.e interest in football, girls) and his language which makes him come across as very young or perhaps even rather simple. This is a shame as this is likely to make it harder for teen readers to empathise with Dylan. More worryingly it could result in readers thinking that having a condition like Tourette’s (or attending a special school) can make you a bit simple.

I think this is a brave and thought provoking book – much like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – but I would have liked a more mature portrayal of Dylan, one that matched more closely the 16 year old boys I meet and listen to. It will be interesting to see how the teen readers who are shadowing the Carnegie react to this book and to Dylan.

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