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Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

Flipped is the most unabashedly sweet book I've read in a very long time. Even the seemingly infinite YA offerings these days are mostly cynical about love and loss and the lessons of growing up. It's all dead parents and eating disorders and "my boyfriend is a (literal) monster and wants to kill me." Which is not to say that those topics aren't relevant and worth our attention--of course they are (well, some of them are, anyway; perhaps the paranormal BF needs to go the way of the dodo). But sometimes, it's nice to just sit down with a book that is about what it's like to be a girl who likes a boy who doesn't like her, and vice versa. When the book does such a thing well, though, it becomes something much more satisfying, which is why Flipped is, like, my new favorite love story.

You may have heard of Flipped. Rob Reiner recently made a movie out of it that had a limited release in early August. And let's be honest, it looks damned adorable:

It's not super clear from the text of Flipped when exactly it's set, although they have CDs and stuff, so it's definitely not the 50s/60s like the Reiner film seems to be. However, there is a very Happy Days feel to everything; at its heart, Flipped is a simple story that burrows into your heart and wriggles around, making you feel nostalgic and happy and sad all at the same time. It takes Kid Love very seriously, while also recognizing that it is, indeed, Kid Love, the purest expression of which is the silent planting of a sycamore tree while the alienated beloved watches from the window. Probs, Juli and Bryce aren't going to get married. But they might! But they're in eighth grade, so that's besides the point, obviously. And who wants to look that far into the future anyway? The present is so much more important.

The ballad of Bryce and Juli begins in the second grade, when Bryce moves to the neighborhood. The moment Juli sees him, she's, to use Bryce's own word, "gaga" over him. His eyes are the bluest blue she's ever seen, and she's determined to have her first kiss come from Bryce Loski's lips. Naturally, Bryce hates her, because he's in the second grade and also he comes from a super uptight bourgeois family who disdain Juli's less wealthy, more chaotic household, so he thinks she's a freak.

Over the next seven years, Bryce watches as Juli becomes weirder and weirder, first refusing to come out of a sycamore tree when its owner tries to chop it down, then deciding to keep her science fair chicks and raise them in her backyard. Bryce is, to be frank, not that deep at first, and he just cannot seem to understand why Juli has to be so...weird. Why she can't be just like everyone else. He gets that from his dad. But his granddad sees something different in Juli, and ever once in a while he cautions Bryce not to be such a coward, and to seek to do the right thing as much as possible.

Eventually, however, Bryce begins to open his eyes to the world around him. He realizes that his snobby dad is sort of a jerk, and that Juli is weird, but only because she cares about things and gets excited and values knowledge and life and opportunity, and most of the other girls at school are only interested in themselves. He realizes the impact of his own behavior and words on her, and he eventually learns how bad it hurts when the one person you always thought would adore you has seen you for what you really are--a shallow, selfish loser, no matter how blue your blue eyes are.

Cruel, of course, that Bryce's appreciation for Juli peaks just as she's starting to see all the negative space in him, but what's really important about the evolution of Bryce and Juli's relationship is that as Bryce becomes aware of his own flaws, he begins to repair them, and in the process crushes his very fragile detante with Juli to smithereens. Sigh. Life.

The book has a beautiful ending, because it's not so much about bringing things to a logical conclusion, but about bringing them to a logical beginning. Bryce, having completely alienated Juli by being a dick to her for seven years and then trying to kiss her at school in front of a bunch of witnesses, finally figures out, after days of trying to fix it with his words, how to really show Juli how he feels--by doing something beautiful for her that means something to her because of who she is. It shows how deeply he's grown to understand her, and also mirrors back to her something that he admires about her, and because Juli is the shit she gets it right away.

God, if I could be Julianna Baker in another life. Bring on the chickens.

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