Both Sides Now

A YA novel by Peyton Thomas.

Peyton Thomas

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. (From Penguin Teen Canada)

Peyton Thomas is an author and freelance journalist from Toronto. His work can be seen in Pitchfork, Billboard and Vanity Fair. He was a 2016 Lambda Literary Fellow and Both Sides Now is his debut YA novel. 

From the book

"Sorry — we're the Soviets? You and me?"

"Come on, Finch: When have I ever steered you wrong?"

He's got a point. In all our years of debating together, Jonah Cabrera has only steered me right. In my bedroom, back home, there's a bookshelf that groans and sighs and threatens to split under four years of blue ribbons and gold medals. It's an inanimate testament, that shelf: Listen to Jonah, and you, Finch Kelly, will go far.

Still, I'm sceptical. "You want us to role-play as Stalin's cronies?"

"Oh, no. Not his cronies." Jonah swivels to the blackboard, scrawling his points in white chalk. "It's 1955. Stalin is six feet under. The Cold War's getting colder. Eisenhower just rolled out the New Look."

I watch him, hunched over my desk and chewing hard on a yellow No. 2. "Remind me what the New Look was?"

"More nukes, more cove-ops," he says, standing tall, sounding sure of himself, "and way more American propaganda getting piped past the Iron Curtain."

"Got it." I pull the pencil — now a beaverish twig — out of my mouth and take some notes. I won't lie: He's selling me. "Keep talking."

In ten minutes, the two of us will stride out of this classroom and onto the Annable School's Broadway-sized stage. We will stand before hundreds of spectators, and we will argue, in speeches lasting not more than eight minutes, that every nation on Earth — no matter how rich, poor, or prone to the incubation of terror cells—deserves endless nuclear weaponry.

Do we actually believe this? God, no. Least of all Jonah, the clipboard-toting, signature-gathering student-activist bane of our local power station's nuclear existence. Among the many buttons presently dotting his backpack, I can see a little one, the colour of sunshine, reading: NUCLEAR POWER? NO THANKS! But still, he stands before the chalkboard, doing his utmost to build the case for Armageddon.

"Both teams —the U.S., the U.S.S.R. — they're fully ready to plant mushrooms all over the map," says Jonah, with a grand sweep of his arm across the chalkboard. "And the only reason they're not raining burning hell all over the planet..."

" mutually assured destruction." I glance at my stopwatch: eight minutes left, scrolling faster than I'd like. "This idea that the only defense against nuclear weapons..."

" more nuclear weapons," Jonah says. "Because why hit the Russkies when you know they'll hit you right back?"

As he says this to me, Jonah scribbles a series of suggestive illustrations on the blackboard: smoke, flames, innocent civilians disintegrating into radioactive ash.

If the whole Greenpeace thing falls through, he might have a future as an artist.

Of course, if either of us wants any kind of future at all, we'll have to go to college first. And if we best the Annable School in the final round of this tournament, the North American Debate Association of Washington State will award us an enormous, gleaming trophy — one that would look great on college applications and, more urgently, on scholarship applications. Jonah's mom is a registered nurse. My dad's on his sixth month of unemployment and his seventh step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Neither of us can afford to shake sticks at this particular hunk of golden plastic.

"Okay, but, Jonah, Annable knows exactly how to refute that case."

"Not if we run the case in the 1950s," Jonah pleads. He's literally a blue-ribbon pleader; he is very convincing. "Come on, Finch. Time travel? Ari is never going to see this coming."

He's talking about Ariadne Schechter: the Annable School's prodigy of a debate captain, my worst enemy, my arch-nemesis, the freshwater to my salt. I despise her. I truly do. For so many reasons. Her noxious lavender vape fumes. Her unironic love for one milk-snatching Maggie Thatcher. And, not least of all, her early admission to Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. I settled for a purgatorial deferral letter. I'm still upset about it. 

From Both Sides Now by Peyton Thomas, ©2021. Published by Penguin Teen Canada.


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