The Boy in the Dress
Written by David Walliams
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
razorbill, 2008

The Boy in the Dress is a children's novel about transvestism. Really, that's really pretty much it.

Dennis is a perfectly normal British tween. Except that he likes likes reading fashion magazines, and as it turns out, wearing dresses. He finds out the later when Lisa, a fairly random girl two grades above him, encourages him to start wearing her clothes. He eventually attempts to spend a day at school incognito (as a female French exchange student), and his secret is discovered. His father and older brother are fairly conservative in their understanding of gender roles, and his school perhaps even more so, resulting in quite a bit of angst.

Thankfully, he is also the star football (soccer) player in his school, a skill which he and his friends are eventually able to leverage into a grudging acceptance of cross dressing among his classmates. By the end of the book all but two of the main male characters have worn a dress, indicating a moral victory, and things go back to normal.

This is a quick and easy read, and all the more so because of Quentin Blake's liberal illustrations. Walliams is a chatty, and sometimes unreliable, narrator with a good sense of humor. While nothing in the story is particularly exciting or interesting, other than boys wearing dresses, that is exactly what the cover promised... so, fair enough.

Unfortunately, Walliams has very poor, often non-existent character development. We have absolutely no idea why Lisa suddenly decides to push Dennis to start wearing her clothes, no real reasoning behind Dennis' dad suddenly changing his attitude, and certain other developments involve unlikely actions by main characters. Moreover, some pivotal scenes are overdone and underwritten -- such as the pivotal game where the score goes from 0-6 to 6-6 in a page in a half of double-spaced, wide-margin text.

Quentin Blake is a very good illustrator, and he has done quite a nice job in this book. However, his long-time association with sillier, more fantastic stories make his illustrations here seem a bit out of place and rather underwhelming. They are largely pictures of people talking or playing soccer, although there is the occasional picture of the headmaster screaming. He did do a quite good job on his minimalist cover design, although this is hidden by a blaring yellow (or, in some editions, red) dust jacket, which I recommend disposing of immediately.

Overall, I don't think I'd particularly recommend this book to anyone. It appears to have the sole virtue of desensitizing readers to cross dressing... which is good. It is made clear that Dennis is not gay, so it shouldn't be offensive to the traditional values crowd. It basically has the message that picking on people who are different makes you a jerk, which is a good message... but it doesn't have the benefit of a particularly good story to go along with this message. However, if you want a quick read with some quirky characters, you could do worse.

ISBN-10: 1595142991
ISBN-13: 978-1595142993
Accelerated reader level: 4.2

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