Excerpt Alert: BOTH SIDES NOW by Peyton Thomas
Both Sides Now by Peyton Thomas is a witty and warm-hearted novel about a trans teen finding his place in the world perfect for fans of Red, White and Royal Blue.
There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, DC, and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls. And that dream of college in DC? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality.
Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to cinch the gold, and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity.
People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things—like who you are and who you love—are not up for debate.
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I’ve never met a president, but when I step out onto that stage, I can imagine, just for a moment, how it feels to be one. I am five feet and five unremarkable inches tall, with a thatch of disobedient red hair that falls somewhere between Chuckie Finster and just plain Chucky. I don’t get to feel like a president all that much.
But here, beneath the tremendous light-rig of the Annable auditorium, staring into the ocean of the audience and soaking in their applause, I feel like I could do… I don’t know, anything. Deliver the best speech of my life. Cinch the state title. Win a spot at the school of my dreams. Maybe, one day, I could become the first trans person in Congress. None of it — nothing — seems impossible.
I take my seat next to Jonah at the desk reserved for the people arguing yes, nukes, more of them. To our left, at a desk of her own, Ari Schechter is squinting through the bangs of her Hillary Rodham haircut, scribbling a final few words onto her cue cards. She’s paying zero attention to Annable’s principal — apologies, headmaster — who’s standing at the podium, delivering his opening remarks in a throaty Masterpiece Theatre accent. He’s saying things like “free inquiry,” and “open dialogue,” and “the dissemination of diverse perspectives,” and I’m wondering how “diverse,” exactly, the “perspectives” can be, at a prep school that costs $25,000 a year.
“Representing the proposition, from the Johnson Technical High School,” says the headmaster — and it’s very funny, that snooty extraneous “the;” it makes us sound like we belong in a very different tax bracket: “Jonah Cabrera and Kelly Finch.”
I cup a hand around my mouth. “Finch Kelly!”
I’m very proud of my name. I gave it to myself, after all. It’s a good one. But it never fails to trip people up. “Like Atticus,” I always tell them. “From To Kill A Mockingbird,” and then, usually, they get it, and they nod. “Atticus” was my first choice, for what it’s worth, but my parents vetoed. They were mostly fine with their daughter becoming their son. Less fine with their son strolling around under the bizarre aegis of a second-century Greek philosopher.
“Ah, yes.” The headmaster pushes his glasses up his nose, peers once more at the paper on the podium. “Finch Kelly. My apologies.”
Light applause. A lone, shrill whistle. That’s Adwoa, most likely — our coach, rooting for us from the cheap seats.
“And, of course, representing the opposition: Annable’s very own Ariadne Schechter and Nasir Shah!”
From the crowd: thunder. It’s like we’re at Bumbershoot on opening night, a wave of sound rolling off the audience. This theater is stacked with Annable kids who volunteered this weekend: timekeepers, moderators, tabulators. They are loud. They are many. But they are not the people we need to convince.
I lower my eyes to the judges, that sentry row right up front. They’re stone-faced, not clapping. How do we reach them? Make them love us?
Or, at least, love the bomb?
“And now, to open the final round of the N.A.D.A. Washington State Championship, arguing in favor of the resolution — ‘This house would allow all states to possess nuclear weapons’ — please welcome Jonah Cabrera!”
Jonah stands. There’s a little more of that polite, disinterested, away-game applause. But then he steps forward, and he shifts loose the tallest button on his dad’s Sunday-best blazer. And you can feel it: the audience falling, suddenly, just a little bit in love with him.
Understand: Jonah Cabrera is hot. I mean, objectively. He is campaign-trail handsome, all square jaw and sharp cheeks and dun-brown skin that goes almost gold when he gets some sun. Like a Kennedy from Calabarzon instead of Camelot. You look at him, and you want to keep looking. No, no, not just look; you want to listen.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Speaker, honorable opponents, guests,” Jonah says, and then pauses. “Or, should I say: good afternoon, comrades.”
He tilts his head, just a little, to the right. This is a private grin, just for me. I smile right back at him. A delicious, dangerous feeling blooms in my gut.
Like we’re breaking the rules.
Like we’re going to get away with it.