When sixteen year old Dylan Mint overhears part of a whispered conversation between his mother and his doctor he becomes convinced he is dying and with just six months or so to live, he develops three 'Cool Things To Do Before I Cack It'. The first is to shag Michelle Malloy, the second is to find a new best bud for his best friend Amir, and the third is to get his father home from the war before time runs out. It's a deceptively unambitious plan but given anytime he gets anywhere near Michelle he has the irrepressible urge to shout 'slag' in her face, Amir is an Autistic Pakistani who smells of curry, and he can't directly contact his soldier father who he believes is on special ops in the Middle East, it might not be as easy as it seems.
Set in Glasgow (Scotland), This quirky coming of age tale features a teenage protagonist with Tourette's, a condition that causes verbal and physical tics. A student at a 'special school', Dylan is almost seventeen and like most adolescent boys he has his priorities, dictated by his hormones, which forms the basis of his personal bucket list. As a character, Dylan is endearingly awkward with an optimistic and thoughtful nature and though he struggles with his condition, he is determined to not let it drag him down. What did concern me about the portrayal of Dylan was his naivety, I can only assume he has more complex neurological issues related to, or in addition to, Tourette's, which weren't, but perhaps should have been, addressed.
In addressing the themes of friendship, intolerance and family in When Mr Dog Bites Conaghan often uses humour to temper the more serious challenges Dylan faces like bullying, blackouts and learning the truth about his absent father, but there are also some sweet and poignant moments. The story unfolds mainly as you might expect, with some minor twists in the details. I do I think the language may prove to be a barrier for non commonwealth readers who may find the slang and cockney rhyming difficult to make sense of but I wouldn't want that to put anyone off.
I liked When Mr Dog Bites, and I think it's weaknesses were balanced by its strengths, but I was hoping for something more. However I think it will satisfy a young adult audience of around 14-18, and would be especially suitable for boys looking for contemporary fiction.