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The Best Laid Plans

Michael's parents have moved the family from Buffalo, New York, to Edmonton, Canada. Michael has to start over with a new school, a new country, and maybe a new gender. Hey, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.

The Best Laid Plans

BOOK REPORT for It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time by Martyn Godfrey

Cover Story: I'm Sold
Drinking Buddy: Shallow
Testosterone Level: Limited
Talky Talk: No Surprises
Bonus Factor: 1980s Punk Culture
Bromance Status: Sitcom Sibling

Cover Story: I'm Sold

I found this book in a pile of donations, and of course that cover grabbed my attention. That boy's getting the full on makeover treatment, complete with hair, perfume and nails, and does not seem to be enjoying it. So why did he think this would be a good idea? I'd assume this was some sort of Porky's-esque attempt to spy on the girls in the locker room, but I was wrong. This book was originally published in 1987, so they're using gallons of hairspray on him.

The Deal:

Twelve-year-old Michael's family just relocated from Buffalo to Edmonton, Canada. Worried about how he's going to fit in at a new school, he's immediately confronted by two neighbor boys, Donnie and Chris. After introducing themselves, they invite him over and ask if he'd be willing to dress up like a girl.

It seems Donnie really wants to become the editor of the school paper, but it's a competitive position and he needs to break some amazing story that will help him stand out from the crowd. So what if he sent a boy, dressed as a girl, to Judy Turner's party? Judy is the most popular girl in school. Donnie wants to write an exposé on what really goes on at an all-girls party from the point of view of a male. And since Michael is an unknown, he'd be the right 'man' for the job. So how about it?

Michael, strangely enough, believes the boys when they tell him that cross dressing and sneaking in somewhere he's not invited will make him a legend at the school, his popularity guaranteed. Michael, who was on the school paper in New York, agrees to the plan. He allows his older sister to dress him as Michelle and befriends his new neighbor Judy, attempting to wrangle a party invite. Unfortunately, as they're neighbors, she also meets his male persona and he has to pass himself off as a set of twins. To complicate things further, Michael and Judy really hit if off, with Judy confiding to 'Michelle' how cute her twin is.

Such zaniness! Will Michael come clean, or will he start the seventh grade as Judy's BFF?

Drinking Buddy: Shallow

This book was originally published in 1987, the year that I, like Michael, was twelve and entering seventh grade. I don't think of those times too often...

Still, I cannot picture any circumstances where a seventh grade guy dressing up like a girl would make him 'a legend.' Well, not a good legend anyway. And the cherry spot that Donnie is offering Michael on the school paper wouldn't make up for that. Yet Michael agrees. Not out of curiosity or because he's questioning his gender identity. Just because he was asked.

And then when asks Jo-Jo, his older sister, to help him dress up, he opens with "I want you to help me become a girl. A female. One of you." I think he would have phrased that differently. Of course his sister merely responds with "You don't have the right plumbing."

Then again, this is 1980s middle grade. I can forgive the sitcom shenanigans, but my suspension of disbelief was strained.

Testosterone Level: Limited

Okay, maybe there is one reason a young, cisgender man might try to pass himself off as one of the girls. But Michael makes it clear that he's not going to be sneaking into any locker rooms. Nor will he break any confidences and reveal any secrets he was told in private. He's a real gentleman.

On the other hand, it turns out Judy is hot with a capital H. And Michael knows that when she finds out how he lied to her, that's going to kind of put the kibosh on any romantic ideas he's having. To make things worse, as he's playing both halves of a set of fraternal twins, Judy confides to 'Michelle' how good looking she thinks Michael is. And of course Michael's parents have no idea any of this is going on, which is a problem when Judy pops by his house for a visit with Michelle. All we needed was one of Michelle's male classmates developing a crush and we'd hit every gender bending trope.

Talky Talk: No Surprises

Now the eighties were the golden age of gender bending media. Tootsie, Bosom Buddies, One of the Guys...great shows all of them.

When I was twelve, I REALLY liked this poster. I've never seen the movie, though.

But really, is an absurd plot like this believable? Of course not.

For starters, Judy is no fool. She immediately realizes that Michael and Michelle are the same person. And when Michael won't fess up, she decides to give him the full female treatment. That's what the cover is, Judy and her friends really giving Michael a taste of the fem life.

Michael never really looks at his alternate role as anything other than a costume. This would have been a good opportunity to discover the pitfalls (and maybe the advantages) of being a girl. But he looks at his problems mostly as they have to do with impressing Judy.

Still, this is a book for middle level readers and was less than 150 pages long. I wasn't looking for depth, and it delivered what the cover promised: silliness and a few laughs.

Bonus Factor: 1980s Punk Culture

Michael's teenage sister Jo-Jo is going through a rebellious stage. In the 80s, that meant being a punk. She wears a nose ring, dyes her hair strange colors and is dating a mohawked guy named Razorhead who thinks her sister Michelle is cute (oh, there you go, every gender bending cliche). It's funny to read this thirty-year-old book, where facial jewelry and tattoos were only worn by anarchists and criminals. Never mind the bollocks.

Bromance Status: Sitcom Sibling

Reading this book was like watching a situation comedy: it was light, I laughed a few times, and I was finished in half an hour.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• If you'd like to read about two middle school students who really get to see the other side of life, try Megan Shull's The Swap.

• Cross dressing for a more series reason? Pick up Stacey Lee's Under a Painted Sky.

• Want to experience the 80s without actually having to live through them? Read Ernest Kline's Ready Player One.

 

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money, nor the offer of a full female makeover (sigh) for writing this review.

 

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.