Thursday, December 24, 2020

Book 265: Flip


"If he had got away with it so far, it was only because the truth was too bizarre for any of the people in Flip's world to figure out in a million years. They might not always know what to make of this version of Flip, but to them, he was still Flip. A weird, puzzling Flip, but Flip even so. They only had to look at him to see that." 

Dates read: October 1-3, 2018

Rating: 4/10

It's easy to look at other people, people who are wealthy, attractive, skilled, popular, and think they have it made. To wonder what it would be like to go through life as them. To wish you could switch places, even if just for a day or two. Rationally, of course, everyone has problems. Appearances can be deceiving, and someone who seems to have it made could be hiding issues we could never even guess.

In Martyn Bedford's Flip, fourteen year-old Alex Gray is a nerd. He plays music and chess, not sports. He's nowhere close to having a girlfriend. His family in London is working class. It would seem like waking up one morning in the body of Phillip "Flip" Garamond, who is handsome, athletic, and popular, would be exciting. But it's six months later than Alex remembers it being and he has no idea where he is, or why he isn't himself anymore, and he's terrified. He bumbles through life as Flip while trying desperately to figure out what happened to him before making contact with a mysterious stranger called Rob...who knows exactly what's going on with Alex because he's lived through it himself. Alex has to discover if things can be made right, or if he's fated to spend the rest of his life as Flip.

The first half of this book is really solid, with a sophistication in the prose style beyond that which is typical in young adult books. For as much as it can be enjoyable to daydream about living someone else's life for the day, the reality is that waking up in someone else's body would be absolutely horrifyingly scary, and Bedford skillfully conveys Alex's terror at this turn of events. I appreciated how Bedford laid out the confusion that would suffuse every moment of trying to figure out where you are, who the strangers you live with are, what you're "supposed to" be eating for breakfast, even where school is and what classes you're supposed to be going to. His longing to return to his real life, even though it's less desirable in almost every way, is very affecting, and makes Alex someone easy to root for. 

But it's in Alex's quest for answers, and the ones Bedford devises, that everything falls apart. I'm going to throw in a spoiler alert here, because I will be discussing the ending, because it is the culminating cherry on the downward slide of the book. After looks of searching, Alex stumbles across a message board for "psychic evacuees", people whose consciousness left their body, usually at the point of death, and took over another body that was "connected" to them in some way. It is here that Alex meets Rob, who shows up to hang out and talk about the life he's been living in someone else's body for years now. They discover that Alex didn't die, but was rather in a car accident that's left him in a coma...and his parents are about to take his body off life support. Alex devises a plan to "trick" his spirit back into his body by smothering himself and honestly it's all just bonkers.

For a novel that begins so pleasantly rooted in realism, it's disappointing the way it careens into plot angles that could be charitably described as "crackpot". I was genuinely curious about how Bedford was going to explain the body-switching, because it seemed like, from the way he was writing, it would be something that seemed at least quasi-plausible. He might as well have had Alex touch a cursed amulet for all the sense it made, though. And although the novel asks us to feel for Alex, it's shockingly unsympathetic to Flip, who must have gone from minding his own business to being stuck inside a strange body that's unresponsive, which is even more awful than Alex's situation, and then finally being freed only to face the mess that Alex made of his life...not just his social situation at school, but facing criminal consequences for his behavior! It tries to handwave this away at the very end, but I didn't find it at all convincing. I don't want to write this book off entirely, because there was some very solid stuff to start it off, but the ending is too preposterous and poorly thought-out for me to honestly recommend it at all.

One year ago, I was reading: Without A Prayer

Two years ago, I was reading: Island of the Colorblind

Three years ago, I was reading: Rebecca

Four years ago, I was a reading: The Moonlight Palace

Five years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

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