Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Jan. 14, 2014
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.