Monday 18 March 2019

Review on The Boy in the Dress

Dennis seems like an average boy. He loves playing football with his friends, visiting the local shop to buy sweets, and reading Vogue magazine... Okay maybe that last one isn't as average. Dennis is heartbroken when his father finds his copy of Vogue and throws it out, but everything changes when he meets Lisa, a girl from his school who is an aspiring fashion designer. Dennis is blown away by the dresses Lisa has made, and even tries some of them on. However things take a turn for the worst when Dennis is expelled for wearing a dress to school, and to make matters worse, he isn't allowed to compete in his school's football match, and without Dennis the team has no chance of winning. With the help of his friends, Dennis must convince their headmaster to let him play, and make him see that a boy wearing a dress really isn't a big deal.

I've never actually read a David Walliams book before, but I found this one in the charity shop I volunteer at and just had to buy it! I used to love Little Britain, so I went into the book expecting it to be full of light hearted humor. Even though part of it was what I was expecting, there were also some darker and serious topics that I'll get round to talking about a little later.

The book follows Dennis, a boy who lives with his dad and older brother. Dennis' mother left them, leaving Dennis with nothing but memories of her, and a single photograph he managed to save when his dad burnt all the photos of her. Dennis obviously misses his mum, and it's difficult to not feel some sort of sympathy for him. The book never actually explains why his mum left, but I felt sorry for the boys as they clearly weren't to blame. Even though we don't know the circumstances, I couldn't help but wonder how she could just leave her children like that. If parents go through a divorce, I feel that it's wrong for one of them to completely cut off all contact with their children, as they could end up believing it was their fault.

The thing that I loved the most about this book was that in challenged gender roles, and asked us why can't boys wear dresses? Dennis' interest in women's fashion is frowned upon by the adults, particularly by his dad. Dennis' dad is a typical manly man. He is an overweight truck driver who loves beer and football, and when he finds Dennis' copy of Vogue, he throws it out and tells Dennis it was wrong for him to have it.I've seen dads like Dennis' multiple times, telling their young sons not to play with dolls or tea sets because they are "for girls." I've honestly had to bite my tongue so many times when hearing dads say things like this. Gender roles are ridiculous, and parents should be encouraging their children's hobbies rather than telling boys they can't be interested in fashion, and telling girls they can't be Scientists because only boys are Scientists. Dennis' dad wasn't a bad father, but as he had obviously been brought up believing boys couldn't be interested in typically feminine things, he passed these ideas onto his sons. I loved how Dennis' dad eventually changed his mindset and was proud of his son rather than ashamed.

Despite burning all the photographs of Dennis' mum, Dennis' dad obviously misses her, and suffers from depression because of this. He often tells his sons to leave him alone, and suffers alone rather than admitting he is struggling. Men, in particular, don't get help for their mental health, as society has deemed men who ask for help to be weak. This is such a toxic mindset and results in thousands of men taking their own lives each year. Something that I loved was how Dennis' dad eventually opened up more and wasn't afraid of showing his emotions. Even though he started out being practically the definition of toxic masculinity, he eventually changed to become a great dad to his sons.

There is a stereotype that men who are interested in fashion or dress in drag are gay, so I love how Dennis having a crush on Lisa was mentioned. This book was brilliant at breaking stereotypes, and I loved that this was one of them. I loved the message that everyone should be free to wear whatever they want to despite their gender identity. Even though we have reached a point where women wearing trousers instead of dresses is normal, a man wearing a dress would still turn heads. Masculinity and femininity have no correlation with sexuality, yet people will assume a man wearing a dress is gay, yet a woman wearing a suit is seen as stylish and powerful. Society needs to stop seeing men wanting to be feminine as a negative thing, as gender equality will never be achieved when we see women dressing masculine as a positive thing but men dressing feminine negatively.

I have to quickly mention the illustrations. The book is illustrated by Quentin Blake, who is, of course, best known for illustrating Roald Dahl's books. As I grew up reading Roald Dahl, this gave the book a nostalgic feel to it and almost made it feel like I was rereading an old favourite rather than a book I was reading for the first time. Quentin Blake was the perfect illustrator for this book and did a perfect job of complimenting the story.

I loved this book and its diverse characters, and I feel as if most children would feel the same way! I definitely want to read more David Walliams books in the future!