Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

Book Review: Burial Rights by Hannah KentFOR TODAY I AM A BOY
by Kim Fu

Fiction
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Jan. 14, 2014
Hardcover; 239 pages
Source: Publisher

The only son among three sisters in a Chinese Canadian family, Peter Huang is under enormous pressure to live up to his father’s ideals of Western masculinity. However, Peter struggles with his father’s expectations, for he knows in his heart that he is really a girl.

For Today I Am a Boy is a fantastic portrait of a transgender boy growing up in a small Canadian town. Although his father is keen to assimilate into Western culture, his mother has trouble letting go of her “superstitious” beliefs and customs. Peter’s sisters, Adele, Helen, and Bonnie are vibrant characters in their own rights, and I loved reading about their relationships with each other and with Peter.

Growing up in their ordered, structured home, Peter must hide who he really is, trying on his sisters’ dresses in secret. Eventually, he leaves for a larger city, where he lives in a cramped apartment and works in a restaurant. In the city, he has relationships with various men and women who shape how he perceives himself and his gender identity.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected, but I don’t like it less for that. This is not an “issue” book about what it means to be transgender. It doesn’t contain gender theory or a deep internal struggle with identity. It’s about family relationships and the coming-of-age of a character who just happens to be transgender. Peter’s gender is just part of his character — like it is for all of us — and not a defining characteristic. I really appreciated Fu’s treatment of her narrator. In making Peter’s gender identity just one aspect of his character, she shows him the respect and empathy he deserves — that we all deserve. She makes him well balanced, relatable, and oh so human.

I also loved how Fu portrays Peter’s relationship with his sisters; for secondary characters, they are well drawn — flawed and kind in their own ways. Their sibling relationships felt real, and as a family they have their ups and downs. It was interesting to read about a Chinese Canadian family, as I am trying to read more diversely. I enjoyed reading about a cultural viewpoint I hadn’t really encountered before.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to diversify their reading. For Today I Am a Boy is a fresh portrayal of a transgender boy growing up in a small-town Chinese Canadian family and later facing the world on his own in a major city.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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22 thoughts on “Book Review: For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu

  1. When I read the summary paragraph at the beginning of your review I thought, “Oh, GOOD LORD, another issue book.” Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are important cultural issues that deserve to be talked about, but I usually feel as if I’m being harangued when I read those books. This novel sounds like a worthwhile and enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing, Leah.

    • Hah! I haven’t really read any “issue” books, but I can see how they could make you feel like you’re being lectured. This book does not do that. It sounds like this would be a good book for you, then!

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  4. I’m not trying to be nitpicky, but unless the main character is a lesbian transwoman, her being trans isn’t her sexuality, it’s her gender identity. Gender and sexuality are not the same thing. If she is a lesbian in addition to being trans, perhaps that could be made more clear in the review.

    • You’re absolutely right, and thanks for pointing that out. I’m still very new at reading and discussing sexuality and gender identity, and I slipped up. Thank you for reminding me that they are separating things; I will fix this in my review.

        • Ahh, *separate, not separating, I can’t type today! I’ve updated the post; I recall Peter feeling attracted to men but also having relationships with women, which I tried to clarify a little bit, as well as making my language more accurate.

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