The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator

Suggested Audience: upper elementary, middle school, high school

This is four pi.

(out of 5)

In The Boy Who Reversed Himself, William Sleator has created a story that captures both the drama and angst of high school social pressures and the excitement of a multidimensional adventure. At 167 pages this is a relatively short novel and a very quick read. The emphasis is clearly more on adventure than teenage social issues, and this is perfectly fine, as it turns out to be an exciting and fascinating little story.

Tenth grade Laura is the protagonist, and through her connection with her neighbor, Omar, she learns not only that there are more dimensions than the three that we inhabit, but also that one can travel between our world and worlds of higher dimensions, and thus her adventures begin.

I was a little frustrated with the way some of the characters – Laura in particular - were portrayed early on; they fit a few unpleasant and unhealthy stereotypes that I don’t like to see reinforced. However, Sleator did this very intentionally, and the arcs of the characters, especially Laura, are such that they undergo some very important changes, and by the end of the story they’ve moved in a much more positive direction.

The heart of this story is the description of travel between, and time spent within, different dimensions, and Sleator accomplishes this very well. Following in the footsteps of the classic novel Flatland he draws upon established mathematical theory and writes innovative and gripping descriptions of what the characters would see and feel. As you read this you’ll find yourself trying to visualize his descriptions of a four-dimensional world. Keep in mind that, just as a two-dimensional being would have limited success imagining our world, so it is a challenge for us to visualize a higher-dimensional world, but the thought exercise of trying to create images of it is part of the fun.

The Boy Who Reversed Himself is a pretty short novel and a quick read, and I highly recommend it. If multidimensional fiction interests you, then please consider reading Flatland, the classic of this genre. There are many versions of Flatland available, but the one with commentary by Ian Stewart is a great way to really understand the novel at a much deeper level and, at the same time, learn far more about some fascinating areas of math than you might by reading version of the novel without such "added value."