Andrew Matthews. The Flip Side. Delacorte, 2005. ISBN 978-0385730969 160 pp. $15.95
This British novel about gender and sexuality is cleverly staged around Shakespeare’s gender-bending play As You Like It. When Robert is assigned the role of Rosalind in a class reading of the play, he is surprised to discover he not only enjoys dressing as girl, but that his crush Milena seems to like it too. As Robert struggles to wrap his mind around the idea that his preconceived notions of boys and girls no longer fit into little boxes, he raises more questions than answers, Milena agrees to a date, and his best mate Kev gets homophobic on him. A party invitation instructing attendees to dress as the opposite sex brings about a predictable climax.
In spite of knowing how the story will end, the author makes the journey there half the fun, keeping the serious story light and mixing in quotes from Shakespeare with true-to-life characters and issues. The underlying themes that we are all a mix of feminine and masculine, that we should be accepting of ourselves and one another, that there is no such thing as normal and that it is possible to surpass labels and just be are all positive ideas that teens–and possibly our politicians–need to have reinforced, not just in their literature, but in the world around them. Not as fluffy as David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003) or as serious as a Nancy Garden novel, The Flip Side would make a fantastic title for book discussion.