Study Guide

Flipped Family

By Wendelin Van Draanen


Back in the third and fourth grades she used to clown around with her brothers in the branches or peel big chunks of bark off so they could slide down the crook in its trunk. It seemed like they were playing in it whenever my mom took us somewhere in the car. Juli'd be swinging from the branches, ready to fall and break every bone in her body, while we were waiting at the stoplight, and my mom would shake her head and say, "Don't you ever climb that tree like that, do you hear me, Bryce? I never want to see you doing that! You either, Lynetta. That is much too dangerous." (3.13)

Looks like the Baker family and the Loski family have different ideas of fun. For the Baker kids, they just love to climb on the huge sycamore tree. But did you notice how strong Mrs. Loski's reaction is when she sees this tree climbing in action? Yep—she thinks it's a big no-no for her kiddos. And based on Bryce's tone in this passage, we're thinking he agrees with his mom on this one.

"Really, Dad. I understand now about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts."

He stopped mixing. "You do? What happened? Tell me about it!"

So I told him about the sycamore tree. About the view and the sounds and the color and the wind, and how being up so high felt like flying. Felt like magic.

He didn't interrupt me once, and when my confession was through, I looked at him and whispered, "Would you climb up there with me?" (4.60-63)

Juli and her dad have a special bond. When he's painting, Juli likes to chat with her dad about philosophical topics. And now that she's had her own pretty magical experience in the sycamore tree, she can't wait to share it with him. Looks to us like Juli and her dad are two peas in a pod.

My dad was convinced I was a coward, and to get me over it, he decided that what I should do was take the carton of eggs back to the Bakers and tell them we didn't eat eggs, or that we were allergic to them, or something.

Then my mom butts in with, "What are you teaching him here, Rick? None of that is true. If he returns them, shouldn't he tell them the truth?"

"What, that you're afraid of salmonella poisoning?"

"Me? Aren't you a little concerned, too?"

"Patsy, that's not the point. The point is, I will not have a coward for a son!"

"But teaching him to lie?"

"Fine. Then just throw them away. But from now on I expect you to look that little tiger square in the eye, you hear me?" (5.176-182)

Bryce's mom and dad can't agree on what to do about Juli's eggs—just check out how many questions they ask each other here. And most of the time they don't give each other a straight answer either. We've got some serious communication breakdown happening here, and poor Bryce is stuck in the middle.

Then two days before the science fair I was candling Bonnie when I noticed something. I called my dad into my room and said, "Look, Dad! Look at this! Is that the heart beating?"

He studied it for a moment, then smiled and said, "Let me get your mother."

So the three of us crowded around and watched Bonnie's heart beat, and even my mother had to admit that it was absolutely amazing. (6.77-79)

The Bakers have a pretty close-knit family. We know that Mrs. B isn't thrilled about the whole chicks thing, but she's still super supportive. In fact, having all three of these Bakers clustered around the eggs has us feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

But after everything that had happened, I was really freaking out, and I couldn't escape the questions tidal-waving my brain. Where would I be if things had been different? What would they have done with me? From the way my dad was talking, he wouldn't have had much use for me, that's for sure. He'd have stuck me in a nuthouse somewhere, anywhere, and forgotten about me. But then I thought, No! I'm his kid. He wouldn't do that… would he? (7.115)

When Bryce sees his dad's reaction to the news that Mr. Baker's brother is disabled, he goes through new and uncomfortable feelings. He wonders whether his father would have been okay with having a disabled child in his family… and he's pretty worried that his father might have been cold-hearted about it. Bryce is learning new things about his dad, and seeing him in this new light definitely isn't any fun.

For a guy who'd only basically ever said Pass the salt to me, my granddad turned out to be a real talker. We walked our neighborhood and the next neighborhood and the next neighborhood, and not only did I find out that my granddad knows a lot of stuff, I found out that the guy is funny. In a subtle kind of dry way. It's the stuff he says, plus the way he say it. It's really, I don't know, cool. (7.129)

We're sure you remember that Bryce and his Granddad hadn't talked much for a long time. But now, long after Granddad moved in, they're finally developing a bond. And that has us happy as clams. Plus, now Bryce thinks his grandpa is "cool," and you just can't get any better than that.

That night my parents came into my room and talked to me, one at a time. My father talked about his brother and how much he loved him and how he'd promised his parents he'd always take care of him. My mother talked about how much she loved my father for his strength and kind heart, about dreams and reality, and the need to count your blessings. And she made me cry all over again when she kissed me goodnight and whispered that of all her many blessings, I was her best and brightest.

I felt sorry for my father. I felt sorry for my mother. But most of all I felt lucky for me that they were mine. (8.53-54)

There is a lot of love in the Baker family. There's so much love going around, in fact, that it can conquer some pretty powerful struggles. For instance, Mr. and Mrs. Baker choose to care for Juli's Uncle David, but they are happy to make this choice. And even though Juli is sad about some of her family's struggles, she can't help but feel like she's got the best parents in the world.

Dad got us all cones, and once we were sitting down, Dad and David did talk to each other some, but mostly David wanted to eat his chocolate fudge swirl. My father smiled at me from time to time, and I smiled back, but I felt disconnected. How many times had the two of them come here for ice cream? How many birthdays had my father celebrated with his brother like this? How long had he known Mabel and Josie and the rest of the people at Greenhaven? How could it be that in all these years, I'd never spent any time with my uncle? It was like my father had a secret life away from me. A complete family away from me.

I didn't like it. Didn't understand it. (10.82-83)

Juli is seeing a whole new side of her dad's life—she already knew he was a sweet guy, but now she gets to see how great he is with his brother, too. Sadly for Juli, all this niceness has a downside. Now Juli feels like she's been cut out of a part of her dad's life and that makes her angry.

Standing next to Mr. Baker, he looked small. Physically small. And compared to the cut of Mr. Baker's jaw, my dad's face looked kind of weaselly.

This is not the way you want to feel about your father. When I was little, I'd always thought that my dad was right about everything and that there wasn't a man on earth he couldn't take. But standing there looking in, I realized that Mr. Baker could squash him like a bug.

Worse, though, was the way he was acting. Watching my dad chum it up with Juli's dad—it was like seeing him lie. To Mr. Baker, to Juli, to my grandfather—to everybody. Why was he being such a worm? Why couldn't he just act normal? You know, civil? Why did he have to put on such a phony show? This went way beyond keeping the piece with my mother. This was disgusting.

And people said I was the spitting image of my father. How often had I heard that one? I'd never thought about it much, but now it was turning my stomach. (11.33-36)

Poor Bryce is having some heavy realizations about his pops—and his sour feelings toward his dad are even sourer when he compares his father to Mr. Baker. Let's break down these comparisons. Some of them are physical and just about looks, but others are about the way the dads act. What do you think about the fact that Bryce says the phony actions are "worse" than the phony looks? And what does this tell us about how Bryce relates to his dad? One thing is for sure: Bryce isn't going to get over these new feelings about his dad anytime soon.

And now I was seeing that there was something really cool about that family. All of them. They were just…real.

And who were we? There was something spinning wickedly out of control inside this house. It was like seeing inside the Bakers' world had opened up windows into our own, and the view was not a pretty one. (11.131-132)

Bryce has a whole new picture of his family now, and it's all thanks to the Baker clan. While the Baker family is "cool" and "real," the Loskis now seem "wickedly out of control." That's a pretty big contrast for Bryce to draw. So where does Bryce fit into this family Venn diagram? Is he on the cool side or the out-of-control side? Or is he somewhere in between?