For Today I Am a Boy is the debut novel of Kim Fu, a young writer from Vancouver and Seattle; it’s been published now in (at least) Canada, the US and Australia. It’s about Peter, a Chinese-Canadian struggling with gender identity, for he is sure he is a girl.
This feels like a timely topic, and it’s impossible to not feel empathy for Peter as he tries to make sense of his life and who he is. Peter is the only son in a family of daughters, and his strict and traditional Chinese father has definite expectations of manhood and masculinity, compounding what would be difficult for Peter even under the most supportive circumstances.
When thinking about the book, one word that kept coming back to me was “quiet”. It’s a quiet book, and I don’t mean that as a slight. Despite taking on a potentially charged and controversial topic, Fu never escalates the drama. Instead, she puts us completely inside the head of one character, and makes us understand how he sees the world, his struggles, and why he acts the way that he does. In so effectively making us empathize with Peter, Kim Fu does much to bring awareness and understanding to transgender issues, which I think is really important.
Sometimes, with a novel that is specifically “issue-driven”, I find it hard to separate the book from the issue – that is, I could think an issue is important but that the novel itself is poorly executed, but then have trouble being critical towards the novel. But this book doesn’t read as though it’s a book about an “issue”. It’s equally a book about family, about sibling, about sisterhood, about coming of age. To put it succinctly, the book itself is just really good. Quiet, compelling, and thoughtful. It’s also a surprisingly quick read.
Reviewed by Kelsey Attard