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Book Review: Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange (reviewed by Cuyler)

Dane Washington is a bully with a code: Don’t hit girls. Don’t hit special kids. And by ‘special kids,’ he means Billy D., a boy with Down Syndrome, who witnesses Dane beat down a guy for bragging about his new car. Dane develops a reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the halls of Twain High, and Billy D. takes notice of it.

When Dane gets his last strike that marks him for suspension, Billy D. formulates an ultimatum. Walk with him to and from school to keep the bullies away, or get suspended and face the wrath of Dane’s mother. Dane sees no way out, and reluctantly accepts the deal with the boy with Down Syndrome.
At first it’s just the walking. Walk with Billy D. to school. Walk with Billy D. home. But Dane soon realizes that this strange boy with Down Syndrome wants a little more than just walking. He wants to learn how to fight like Dane, to protect himself. Dane agrees, and forms a Mr. Miyagi and Karate Kid relationship. Then everything changes when Billy pulls out the heavy atlas from his backpack.
The atlas. The last gift Billy’s father gave him before his mother took him away. The atlas contains puzzles, riddles underneath bizarre towns and cities like Santa Clause, Indiana and Mexico, Missouri. It’s an atlas full of dead ends that just might lead to something big: the location of Billy D.’s father.
With the help of the white-haired neighbor girl, Seely, Dane and Billy D. embark on a scavenger hunt like none ever attempted, connecting the riddles and dead ends into a bigger picture. A big picture that contains a secret that Billy D. just may be keeping to himself…

First things first. Ms. Lange, since I do not live in Arizona and am not able to give you the biggest hug known to man, I guess this will have to do. Even though after reading Dead Ends, I really, really want to on account of how awesome you are. Plus, I’ve heard I give really awesome hugs.
I have read a lot of books. I am a book hoarder. Seriously, if I die it will be because of a book avalanche falling on top of me from all the stacks of books I have in my room that have no place on a shelf with zero space left. So many, many, many stories have gone through this book-fried brain right here. But your story has left a permanent brand on my mind that will never fade.
Reason Numbah One I Love Dead Ends: The characters were phenomenally dynamic and distinct. In other words, they were flipping awesome. No two characters were the same, and each had their own voice and opinions that made the story come alive with an incredible job on dialogue. Your characters were beautiful, hilarious, and fun from page one!
Reason Numbah Two I Love Dead Ends: I cried. Like, a lot. And guess what, that’s only happened ONE other time in my life. And, also, I’m a dude and I cried like a baby, so job well done.

Reason Numbah Tres I Love Dead Ends: I read it in one sitting, which I have also done only one other time. You also kept me awake till four o’ clock in the morning, which I don’t think I’ve ever done. Look at you, racking up all these first-timers. I believe you’ve got yourself a winner here, Jade.
Reason Numbah Four I Love Dead Ends: Despite my dissimilar situation to either Dane or Billy D., I was still able to relate somewhat to the fact that Billy had Down Syndrome. Not that I have Down’s myself, but that I have an eight-year-old little brother born with DS who I love more than words can express and is my entire life. Which is why I absolutely hated Dane at the beginning. I hated how he thought of Billy. That he called him “retarded.” That he referred to him as “Special Ed.” I HATE that, and I hear it all the time in the school system. Frankly, I wanted someone to beat up Dane for a change just so I could let the steam out of my ears. Which is what made me love Dane throughout the rest of the book. I loved that Dane began to see Billy D. in another light. One that didn’t automatically brand him as a boy with Down Syndrome or a disabled person. Dane saw him as a PERSON. He believed in him, and he began to hate it when others would give him a free ride just because of his disability. He realized that when people’s faces washed over with pity, they weren’t looking at Billy D. They were looking at what he had. Down Syndrome. Not that he was human. Not that he was a person. Not that he could think for himself or want to do big things just like the rest of mankind. But Dane did, and I loved that so much. You have no idea how much that meant to me because that’s what goes through my mind every day I look at my little brother. Thank you so much, Erin Jade Lange. Thank you for this beautiful book!
There are so many more reasons why I loved Dead Ends, but I think it’d take a novel to collaborate them all. Thank you so much for writing this book. I’ve never cried, gasped, laughed, or smiled while reading a book as much as I had reading yours. Dead Ends flies to the top of my TOP 10 LIST of my favorite books, gets five out of five stars and a thousand more, and will be recommended to every book lover I know. Dead Ends is definitely worth anyone’s time, young or old.
My advice to those picking up a copy of Dead Ends? Give up sleep and buy about ten cases of Kleenexes. And to the fantastic Erin Jade Lange: Beautiful tale, amazing characters, and one memorable adventure I won’t soon forget. Keep up the incredible work!

Book Review: Butter by Erin Jade Lange

Now over 400 pounds, Butter is a teenage boy who knows all to well the loneliness that comes from being an outcast.  But when he announces that he is going to eat himself to death online, he finds that popularity is both toxic and fleeting -and often quite dishonest.  Butter by Erin Jade Lange is a heartbreaking tale that touches on bullying, our online culture, loneliness, and a teenage boy living with obesity.

“If you can stomach it, you’re invited to watch… as I eat myself to death.” – Erin Jade Lange
Releases September 18th by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781599907802

This is not an easy book to read, Butter is full of self loathing and has the complicated attitude to match; he is not always likable and doesn’t realize how much he gets in his own way when it comes to making friends.  At one point he expresses extreme jealousy when a fat camp friend loses weight (a realistic reaction I think). However, this is a very authentic portrait of the teenage life.  Teenagers of all walks of life, especially those with body image issues, self sabotage with the best of them.  We all create a variety of defense mechanisms to help cope with the pain of who we are, or who we perceive ourselves to be.

When Butter makes his announcement, strangers come out of the woodwork and decide that they are going to be his “friend”.  There is a morbid curiosity that permeates our society and, like the arena games in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we get an inside look at how much we are willing to derive our entertainment off of the suffering of others.  Butter is a unique look at bullying, particularly online bullying, because mocking the obese seems to be one of the last acceptable forms of bullying that we condone in society.  We can’t condone obesity because of the serious and undeniable health affects that it brings into a person’s life, but it seems we ought to be able to discuss the issues without personally condemning those that are struggling with serious weight issues.  If you spend any time reading online comments you know that this is not the case.

Perhaps an important part of the issue is that we seem to associate obesity without laziness or a lack of self control and we often fail to recognize the emotional and sometimes physical causes that contribute.  This is an area where Lange excels in her depiction of Butter, helping the reader to understand the deep emotional issues that come into play.  In the end, Butter turns out to be a sympathetic character that most teens will be able to identify with: we all hate something about ourselves and see something different in the mirror than others see in us.

The question is, will Butter go through with it and eat himself to death or not?  At times, even Butter doesn’t know the answer to this question.  But readers will definitely be turning the page to find out.  4 stars out of 5.  Recommended for all library collections.