Boy 2 Girl by Terence Blacker

A fast and funny comedy of teenage angst
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The Independent Culture

This novel comes with a money-back guarantee from the publishers if it fails to make readers laugh. So long as honesty prevails, this should be a safe promise, since Terence Blacker is an amusing writer with a neat turn of phrase. His story is about Sam, a tough American boy exiled to Britain, who decides for all sorts of reasons to pass himself off as a girl at his first week in a comprehensive school.

His British cousin Matthew goes along with this plan, as do his parents, once it becomes evident that their nephew Sam is in danger from his Mafia-style father, so making any sort of disguise necessary. Everything finally gets resolved, with Sam picking up a girlfriend who is relieved to discover that he is male. Even Sam's father finishes on a positive note, putting his criminal energies into running a restaurant under the ambiguous name My Private Cloud.

The best children's novel about the various issues arising from a pupil cross-dressing at school is still Anne Fine's Bill's New Frock. But Blacker's book is pretty good: its humour ranges from broad (worries about visiting the loo) to the more subtle, when it makes points about the gender wars still common around the age of 13, before serious attraction settles in.

Aggressive, wise-cracking Sam benefits from becoming a temporary part of a female group where it's OK to talk about the feelings he has been bottling up for too long. Before, he puts all his rage about his deceased hippie mother, and a father who has spent his quality time as a parent in prison, into occasional fights or else his own line in toxic invective. Readers looking for new ways of telling obstreperous others to get lost will find many inventive phrases for doing this within these pages. The author seems able to draw on a limitless fund of smart cracks, just one of which would pass for a genuine achievement in any real-life conversation at this age.

Older readers may find enjoyment as well, even though this novel is not aiming at a crossover market. Its adult characters, from stuffy parents to self-important headteachers, are comic stereotypes rather than living people, and the basic plot, unlikely from the start, becomes less convincing as the story progresses.

While the teenage characters are real enough, their language is free of continuous swearing and grosser forms of sexual chat, both so well caught in Melvin Burgess's Doing It. But neither omission is any sort of loss except in the matter of a general truthfulness that would be out of place here. For Boy 2 Girl is written to entertain rather than inform, and while there are some nods in the direction of a more serious work, these never last long enough to risk spoiling the fun.

The reviewer co-wrote the 'Rough Guide to Books for Teenagers'

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