Flip, by Martyn Bedford (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011, YA, 272 pages).
14-year-old Alex is an asthmatic, clarinet-playing, fairly normal London boy. But then one morning he wakes up in a strange bed, in a strange house in the north of England, and worst of all, in a strange body. It's the middle of June, and six months have somehow passed overnight. Suddenly he must take up a whole new life as Flip (short for Philip)--complete with a new family, a new school, and not one, but two, girlfriends...
Then he learns that his own body has been lying in a coma in a London hospital for all the missing months. What follows is Alex's struggle to figure out what has happened to him, and to somehow keep himself, Alex, alive inside Flip's body until he can go home again...if that's even possible. And, in addition, there are the struggles of daily life--to get out of having to play cricket, to eat foods Flip liked but Alex didn't, and to cope with Flip's girlfriends, while slowly building his own relationship with loner, musical girl Flip had ignored.
The central premise of the book is speculative fiction (neither sci fi nor fantasy), but Alex's struggle to keep his own identity in the difficult circumstances both of his particular situation, and the difficult circumstances of being a 14 year old boy in general, make for a story that is so rooted in the particulars of the real world that this should appeal strongly to readers who generally avoid spec fic books.* "Psychological thriller" is a phrase used by several other reviewers to describe it; not a genre I read (as far as I know), so I'm not sure how accurate it is!
But in addition to that, this book thoughtfully raises both metaphysical questions--what is the soul? what makes one person different from another? --as well as questions of what if? nature. What if you were still alive, in a different body, and your parents no longer recognized you? Could you make a new life for your own self, and still be your own self in the ways that mattered, in someone else's body?
Although the basic premise is certainly compelling, what made the book work for me were the characters. Bedford does a great job not only with Alex, but with supporting cast (with the possible exception of the absent Flip, who we only see as a collection of traits that Alex doesn't share. We never get to hear poor Flip's side of things, and he comes off as rather unlikable--the sort of boy 14-year old me would have wanted nothing to do with, and vice versa!)
In short, Flip is a fascinating page-turner with broad appeal. Although the premise might seem darkish, the reader (well, me at any rate) is left with a warm and fuzzy desire to go hug their own family.
Other reviews at Midnight Bloom Reads, Feeling Fictional, The Crazy Bookworm, and Our Time in June.
*This is one of my favorite YA reads of the year, and so I'm thinking ahead to the Cybils awards, and wondering if I will nominate it. It's tricky, though, because I while I think it would be more at home in the non-sci fi/fantasy YA section, the central premise of soul-transfer seems to argue against that. Up at the top is the American cover, to the right the UK one--I think the difference between these covers illustrates the dual nature of the book rather nicely--ordinary dude (albeit upside down) vs scary sci-fi looking giant-face-in-his-torso dude.