Dane Washington is 16 years old, an American teenager with intelligence enough to get good grades but fists ever-ready for a fight. He has been too often in trouble. He finds himself one detention away from permanent exclusion and a ticket to a specialist unit for exiles from the mainstream.
Billy Drum, known as Billy D, is also 16. He has just moved into the same street as Dane. Both these young men have something in common: neither knows who his father is. As it happens, Billy D has Down’s syndrome.
The meeting of Dane and Billy is hardly propitious. En route for school, Billy trails along with Dane, calculating that any bullies met on the way will be deterred by Dane’s pugnacity. Dane however has something to gain from helping Billy. The school Warden (responsible for discipline) tells Dane that if he helps Billy, his good behaviour will help him avoid expulsion. Dane becomes a guardian, not so much from choice as from necessity.
Billy decides to take the friendship to a further stage. Will Dane help find his absent father? Now Lange’s novel takes to the road, two teenage Kerouacs. Dane and Billy set off across American searching for Billy’s Dad. A wonderfully feisty girl named Seely makes up the trio as they prepare for their adventure.
The characterisation in Lange’s book is by and large convincing. When Dane asks Billy if he has Down’s syndrome he replies ‘Obviously’. Billy owns his situation and sees no need to beat about the bush. His body may be dysfunctional but it is real and integral.
There is however one rather annoying weakness. Characters with Down’s syndrome are, it seems, invariably depicted in books as having reading problems: it’s just a literary cliché. Why can’t we have a character with Down’s syndrome who reads well but has problems handling numbers? Despite this failing, Lange’s book is an excellent read and deserves a warm welcome.