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I wasn't sure about this book when I first saw it, thinking it might be a bit odd or inappropriate for children to read a book about a boy who likes dressing in womens clothes. I know quite a few children and the phrase 'gay' gets bandied about with (if you'll excuse the pun) gay abandon - and it would be very tempting for them to be cruel about such a character or be put off reading the book. But this is very cleverly done so that there is no hint what so ever of there being anything sexually different about this boy.
The character of Dennis is a football loving boy's boy who is the star shooter in the school football team. His reasons for wearing the dress are two-fold. It makes him feel closer to his mum, who left him and his brother to be brought up by Dad and whom they are not allowed to talk about, and secondly, to impress the girl who encourages him to dress up and encourages his love of fashion.
There is some very clever humour in the book and at the same time it draws some very clever parrallels with other people who are seen to be different such as Sikh's wearing their turbans. The general theme of the book is that its OK to be different.
It's a very quick read, especially for the 9+ children it's aimed at, but entertaining, and the illustrations by Quentin Blake are fantastic.
I did a survey a few weeks ago, where we had to read some pages of a book and give our opinions of it. I thought it was so good, that I went on to buy the book from Amazon. But, this was a kids' book and I bought it for me. So why?
Well, it was written by David Walliams, the tall one from Little Britain. I think he's lovely. I met him a couple of years ago and he was really sweet and a quick wit and sense of humour is something I find both attractive and interesting. So I am always looking out for new work from him, but a kids' novel wasn't what I was expecting.
The novel is called The Boy in the Dress and let's face it, David Walliams is known for appearing in drag in Little Britain and does it very well, with his "I'm a lay-dee" catchphrase being known all over the country. But surely he wouldn't write a transvestite book for CHILDREN?
Well, yes, kind of.
The Boy in the Dress is an unusual and brilliant book. From its beautiful purple cover with silver sparkly writing to its pencil drawings by Quentin Blake, this is quite a special book.
We soon learn about Dennis, the main character, who is twelve years old and lives with his father and older brother. He misses his mum, longingly peeking at the one photo he still has of her, when they were a happy family, on the beach and she was wearing a pretty yellow dress.
He misses the hugs he used to get from his mum, because his dad is a lorry driver who likes beer and football and isn't one for any demonstration of affection. His brother John is fourteen and also rather adverse to hugs.
Dennis is an ordinary boy of his age. He goes to school, hangs round with his best friend Darvesh and loves playing football. He also enjoys looking at fashion magazines. He marvels at the cut of the catwalk outfits, the colours, the fabrics and the sequins. So when he finds a girl called Lisa is also into fashion, they get along brilliantly.
I'll have to stop the story there, because the rest is a surprise, but as you will guess from the title, Dennis ends up wearing a dress.
Although the word transvestite is never mentioned, it's fair to assume that Dennis certainly has leanings in that direction. He's definitely not gay though, which I was pleased about, as the one transvestite I have known wasn't gay either. It's a common misconception that blokes wearing a dress someone want to be women, so they fancy men. Not true. There are definite distinctions between being a transsexual, transvestite and just being gay.
I loved this book and read it in a couple of sittings. It's 232 pages long and an easy, fun read which will have you giggling, but also thinking about things. It's also the kind of book that both kids and adults will enjoy and will get something out of. Doctor Who fans and Carry On fans (I am both) will find something interesting in the text too.
The story certainly doesn't promote transvestism, before 'Concerned Conservative of Small Village in Southern England' starts ranting at me (or David). It doesn't really promote anything, but the message I took away from it was - It's okay to be different. Dennis has a friend called Darvesh who is a Sikh and wears a 'patka' on his head and Dennis discusses this with his friend, deciding it doesn't really change anything.
The humour and wit is apparent throughout the book and little bits of David Walliams certainly shine through, especially when he uses the first person. It is a very clever book, but seems quite simple when you read it. It's only afterwards, when you think about it, that you realise there is a lot in there.
There are some wonderful characters in there too, especially Darvesh's mum and Raj, the newsagent who's always trying to sell his items in bizarre deals.
It is a heart-warming story with a lovely message of tolerance, diversity and acceptance. We're all different - so what?
The book has a recommended reading age of 9+ and I'd be very happy with my twelve-year-old reading it and I hope she will. My fifteen-year-old has already read it and I'm sure my son (seventeen tomorrow) will love it too. I remember my daughters dressing him up in a green dress when he was about nine. I think it was only the once though.
The Boy in the Dress is a great book for all ages and I hope you'll give it a try. I hope David Walliams writes some more too, as I would definitely read them.