Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Boy in the Dress, by David Walliams

The Boy in the DressEager to find out why everybody loves David Walliams, and to discover for myself if his writing is as funny as I’m told, I decided to start with his debut, The Boy in the Dress. Verdict? His writing is everything it is reputed to be.

The Boy in the Dress tells the tale of Dennis, a twelve year old boy living an ordinary life on an ordinary street in an ordinary town. Or, as Dennis would put it, living a boring life on a boring street in a boring town. But Dennis is neither ordinary nor boring, of course, and this book is all about accepting those differences both in oneself and in others.

Walliams’ voice is clear and friendly, using simple language and simple story-telling, but without talking down to the reader. In fact, sometimes he talks directly to the reader, very unusual but very effective, and adding to his humorous style. Although the main character is twelve, this book would definitely be suitable for younger readers as well. And - of course - it’s funny. Walliams writes like I imagine young boys think. It is full of little asides, jokes, even irony and sarcasm, and the humour is well balanced - as well as the obligatory fart jokes, there are smart ones too. I don’t often laugh out loud at books, but this one had me sniggering at the breakfast table.

“You poor boy, expelled just for not wearing the correct school uniform. Darvesh never told me, what exactly were you wearing?”
“Erm, it really doesn’t matter Mum...” said Darvesh. He attempted to hurry her out of his room.
“No, it’s OK,” said Dennis. “I don’t mind her knowing.”
“Knowing what?” asked Darvesh’s mum.
“Well,” Dennis paused, before continuing in a serious tone. “I went to school wearing an orange sequined dress.”
There was silence for a moment.
“Oh, Dennis,” she said. “What a terrible thing to do!”
Dennis paled.
“I mean, orange is really not your colour Dennis,” she continued. “With your light hair you would probably look better in a pastel colour like pink or baby blue.”

I liked that Walliams set the bigger story up by introducing the differences between Dennis and his best friend, Darvesh; and I liked that although Dennis liked looking at designer clothes, this didn’t mean that he is gay. Its particularly interesting to note that there’s no use of that term, or any of the slang associated with it, anywhere in the book. The focus is on the fact that he likes clothes, and this interest is not used to infer anything greater. In the end, doing something different doesn’t solve all of Dennis’s problems, but it makes life a little more interesting and brings a little more colour to his days. It tackles similar ideas as R. J. Palacio’s fantastic Wonder (the acceptance of others), but in a completely different, and perhaps more child-friendly, way.

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