Possibly one of the most powerful books that I have read in a very long time. That it is written in verse just adds to its impact. Lyrical, beautiful, heartbreaking, poetic. Have a box of tissues handy.
Brendan Chase has it all: he is doing well in his senior year of school, hopes to go to the University of Chicago in the fall, is a star on the school wrestling team, has a good circle of friends and an athletic and beautiful girlfriend. But it feels wrong. Sometimes he feels like he fits in perfectly, sometimes he feels that he would be much happier if he had long smooth hair, soft skin and breasts.
Multiple POVs can be difficult to pull off successfully, but author Kristin Elizabeth Clark does it. She deftly gets into each of the teens’ heads and projects their voices wonderfully, often examining the same situation from the three very different viewpoints, while providing them each with a perfectly developed voice and unique storyline.
While Brendan is the main character, both Vanessa and Angel are given enough voice that they balance him out perfectly. Brendan is struggling to understand his sexual identity, Angel fights her inner demons, and Vanessa, who at first glance seems to be the most settled of the three, questions her own identity and what her relationship with Brendan ultimately means.
Brendan is a fantastic character, authentic, intense, questioning, and understandably extremely self-absorbed. His discovery of his transgender identity is realistic, and one I have not yet seen in LGBT YA literature. He loves his girlfriend, loves the feeling sex with her gives him, yet sometimes feels best when sitting alone in his room, dressed in woman’s clothing. I love that Clark doesn’t pin a stereotype on Brendan, but shows that the trans experience is as varied and dynamic as the straight.
Brendan doesn’t get the chance to figure it all out and accept himself before his best friend discovers his secret and outs him to the school. The consequences are horrible, with bullying and lost friends and a split with Vanessa and suicidal thoughts the result. Heartbreaking.
Vanessa questions her own identity throughout the novel. She is tall and athletic and wrestles on the team with Brendan, as the only girl. She is harassed and called a dyke and after she finds out about Brendan, she questions what it means for her own identity, that she could love a boy who sometimes believes he is supposed to be a girl.
Angel is a bit older than the two teens, and confident in her identity. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t struggle; her father beat her and sent her away, no son of his would dress that way. It took her a number of years to find a place where she could be accepted and acknowledged for herself, and to find a group of friends with whom she was completely comfortable being herself. Her influence on Brendan is steady and supportive, even as she questions her own motives.
And the COVER. The cover is spectacular. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil and inner demons that all three characters face.
The ending is open and without a clear conclusion, something I am discovering in quite a few of the novels that I have read on the trans experience. And each time I find them to be perfect. Yes, I would love these teens to find their happily-ever-after, and hope they do in the future. But life rarely wraps up so neatly and quickly when you don’t have hurdles to jump, and I appreciate that the authors are making these stories so true to life.
If you want to read another (really good and much more coherent) review of this book, pop on over and visit Beth at betwixt-the-pages. Not only does she write fabulous reviews, she is also the princess of all thing penguin.
Again, another wonderfully unique story about the trans experience that is appropriate for the entire YA age range, and should be read by anyone who needs to learn more. I couldn’t put it down.
Freakboy was published October 22nd, 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).