DD Armstrongimpressively reimagines Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by merging its themes of male friendship, loneliness, and the American Dream with a post-Grenfell West London that immerses the reader in the youth culture of today.
Ugly Dogs Don’t Cry follows best friends Kyle and Sideeq as they embark on their first year of college. Kyle is a dreamer and sees a future where he and Sideeq can push their talents in music and art to the next level, whereas Sideeq is shy and cautious, using his artwork as a way of dealing with his painful past. These characters mirror Steinbeck’s George and Lennie with the power dynamics in their friendship. Kyle knows what he wants and how he is going to get it—Sideeq is happy to comply. The two friends navigate through tumultuous teenage social politics and the systemic expectations of men of colour that put their friendship and loyalty to the test.
Armstrong is editor of The Beyond Words Anthology and is known for tackling challenging and contemporary issues in his writing. To that end, Ugly Dogs Don’t Cry is not afraid to place the reader into the tragedies and hardships of the characters but also to pull you back to a place of optimism that echoes the theme of visions for a better future.
‘“OK,” Sideeq laughed and shook his head. “Well lemme tell you what I think. I think you’re the dreamer, but sometimes you get so carried away with chasing your dreams or whatever that you need someone to bring you back to reality. And that is why you need me.”’
By masterfully unraveling the complexities of masculinity and Black British youth culture, Armstrong has made this well-known novel relevant to today’s society. His narrative gives insight into gang culture, abuse, and loss, while expressing how it impacts not only the victims but those around them. Ugly Dogs Don’t Cry demonstrates what we have done but also what we can always leave behind to move forward.
Armstrong writes the characters with phenomenal insight, giving the reader an understanding of their fears as well as their visions. You root for them, you want them to succeed and you become afraid for them when they fail. Even minor characters like Swank and Danny become truly fleshed out beings in their own right, complementing the narrative spectacularly.
All of the dialogue is written in a West London dialect, giving the setting authenticity and fully immersing the reader in this diverse world.
Whether or not you went to a college like Kyle and Sideeq’s, Armstrong’s deep dive into the social politics of teenage love, life, and friendship will resonate with you. The novel will keep you gripped, with characters that make you nostalgic for Steinbeck’s classic but also paint a brilliant picture of a new and diverse future.