CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 19 . . . . January 23, 2015
Sheldon Bates narrates the novel from an indeterminate time in the future, looking back at his experiences at the age of 17, when he comes to realize something about himself that he isn’t fully willing to admit right away; Sheldon is bisexual. While at the swimming pool one day, Sheldon invites another young man to practice mouth-to-mouth on him, leading him to discover his new sexual feelings. Through the course of the story, he reveals his identity to his girlfriend and his best friend, and, eventually, the information gets out to the whole school and Sheldon’s world starts to fall apart around him. At school, he manages to find a refuge in Mr. Aiden’s classroom during lunch period, but even that’s not enough to save him from The Bastards, a group of bullies at school who are out to get Sheldon since his revelation. In a moment of recklessness (or bravery), Sheldon makes a speech in front of the school and lets everyone know the truth, making him a hero to some and even more of a target to others.
Throughout the novel, Sheldon is the target of homophobic attacks. Though he finds allies later in the book, Sheldon seems to encounter bully after bully, jerk after jerk, with almost no time for him to recover. And, although there are some genuinely good characters in the book, they are few and far between. The structure of the narrative feels similar to problem novels of the 80s and 90s, wherein the protagonist comes out as gay/trans/queer/bisexual, and everything afterward (usually negative) is a result of that action. In this particular case, Sheldon comes out and is then bullied, harassed, beat up, and made to feel worthless, even by those he feels should be on his side. The use of these homophobic situations feels excessive, especially uses of the word “faggot” throughout the book. I am also unsure why so much violence is needed in the narrative overall, except as shock value.
Switch is set in the 80s, though I don’t fully understand why. Nothing seems to happen in the book that would necessitate a historical time frame, except for the fact that book is being told in retrospect (again, though, this does not seem to actually aid the plot in any way.) One other element that is used throughout that novel is the footnote. Not often an element of fiction, footnotes can be used to include additional information, or to add humour to the narrative. In this case, I remain unconvinced that the footnotes serve the story in any positive way. In fact, it feels as though they only exist in order to remind the reader that the story is taking place in the 80s. For instance, at one point, a Walkman is mentioned, and the footnote reminds readers that the story takes place before iPods were invented. I am unsure why this is necessary or how this style of narrative is better than setting the novel in a more contemporary time frame.
There are also a number of characters who show up and then disappear, serving as the deus-ex-machina in particular situations (i.e. the janitor who shows up during a moment of distress while Sheldon is being pursued by The Bastards.) Others seem to be less fully explored; the characters serve a purpose, but are not fully realized as individuals within the overall plot. Switch does some good work examining the topic of bisexuality, but, in the end, it gets bogged down by the overly didactic nature of the writing and the quantity of homophobic slurs and violence. That being said, I do admire Davey for making an effort to write a novel about an often ignored topic in young adult fiction, especially within Canadian literature.
Recommended with Reservations.
Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children’s Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is currently a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.