Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
On the surface, Brendan has it all together. He has a hot girlfriend, he wrestles on the high school team, and he has a great younger sister who adores him. It is under the surface that Brendan struggles, because he feels like a boy inside sometimes and other times like his entire body is wrong and that he is a girl. As Brendan’s life spirals, he meets Angel, a transgendered teen who now lives as a girl. The two bond over video game playing, carefully stepping around the larger issues for a long time. But Brendan’s spiral turns darker and more destructive and having one understanding friend may not be enough to save him from himself and his despair.
Told entirely in verse, this book captures the world of a teen experiencing a different gender than the one he was born with. The story is told in three voices: Brendan, his girlfriend Vanessa, and Angel. In this way, readers get to see not only Brendan’s personal story and evolution, but also the way that it impacts people he loves. Angel serves as a vision of a possible future that is positive and yet complicated.
Clark doesn’t shy away from anything in this book. Sex and sexuality are discussed frankly and with beautiful details that add radiance and wonder. She also does not make things easy. Gender is shown in all of its complexity and as a full spectrum. One brilliant character is Vanessa, a girl who is a high school wrestler but also one that is flirtatious and womanly. Readers may not realize it at first, because Clark handles it gently, but Vanessa speaks to her own form of gender expression.
A powerful blazing novel that gives insight into teens struggling with gender variance and also offers a book where those teens can see themselves and a way forward. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.