Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on January 14, 2014
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant—grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.
At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name Juan Chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father's ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl.
Sensitive, witty, and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to one laid out by others. For Today I Am a Boy is a coming-of-age tale like no other, and marks the emergence of an astonishing new literary voice.
Kim Fu handles the transgender perspective in For Today I Am a Boy with the utmost care. This is not a radical, explosive book meant to shock its audience. Instead, it centers on Peter’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences as he tells us about his childhood, his loved ones, and his coming of age, in his own voice. There are a number of subtle but powerful moments that made me forget this is a work of fiction; much of the time it reads like a memoir.
Fu attains the perfect balance between creating interesting, complex characters without turning them into clichés. Especially when it comes to Peter, this maintains the story’s reliability.
Who were these kids? What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves . . . To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls? You eat what’s there or you starve.
I was glad that Peter, with all the turmoil he faced, did have a few people in his life who completely accepted him without question, who didn’t try to change him. I’m not sure how realistic that is for most transgender people, but it certainly added an element of hope throughout the story.
Approached with sensitivity and free of stereotypes, For Today I Am a Boy explores how who we are (and the discovery of who we are) plays into our sense of self, the path we take in life, and our family dynamics. This is a coming of age story well worth reading.