Dane’s anger management issues (he blows off steam beating up the rich kids who taunt him at his Columbia, Mo., high school) have caught up with him; to avoid expulsion and exile to the alternative school, he agrees to mentor Billy D., a student with Down syndrome.
Both are outsiders, sons of financially challenged, single mothers. Billy is obsessed with finding his dad, but Dane tells himself he has no interest in finding his. Billy manipulates Dane into helping, saying his dad planted clues to his whereabouts in Billy’s atlas. Soon Seely, a pretty skateboarder, joins the quest. Dane agrees to teach Billy to fight, but Billy’s efforts to find his father go nowhere. Billy’s exceptionally high-functioning, but he’s selfish; Dane’s adult intelligence and self-knowledge work against him. As he’s not confused about what pushes his buttons, his violent episodes appear coldly deliberate. Far-fetched plot elements abound. Dane’s mother barely supports them teaching yoga and Pilates yet won’t cash in thousands of dollars in lottery winnings, instead turning the tickets into wall art. Despite ample evidence that Billy’s less than truthful, Dane repeatedly jeopardizes his own future to accommodate Billy’s peculiar demands and assertions without first confirming them. Lange’s skillful writing holds readers’ interest for most of the novel, but it can’t rescue the flat ending.
There’s less here than meets the eye. (Fiction. 12 & up)