In this free verse narrative, high school wrestlers Brendan and his girlfriend, Vanessa, explore their feelings for each other. Brendan is also wrestling with the desire to experience life as a girl, which is why he thinks of himself as “freakboy” and hides this yearning from everyone. Vanessa knows something is interfering with their relationship, but she cannot guess what it is, even though she herself has challenging gender roles by being a wrestler. “I got called dyke a lot / put up with bullshit from everyone / even some of my teammates.”
His internal struggles keep Brendan from accepting help or even realizing that Angel, the hot girl at the teen center and the third voice in the book, is transgender. She is confident in her identity despite, or maybe because of, her past including homelessness and sex work. “God doesn’t make mistakes. / I’m here for whatever reason He/She has. / No need / to apologize / For who I am, / For what I am.”
Brendan also struggles with family issues: stepfather, absent father, and preoccupied mother. He’s uncertain what his identity is although his attraction to girls convinces him he is not gay. “I read about people who’ve known / forever they belong in a different body, / “but I’m not even always sure I’m trans. / “Sometimes, being a guy is…not horrible.” / My shrug tightens / my shoulders go round / “Sometimes, it hurts more than anything.” While Brendan does not resolve his question of gender identity, the book ends hopefully.
Clark has eloquently and authentically captured the turmoil of having a gender identity that doesn’t conform to expectations. Her novel belongs in the teen collection of every public library and high school.
Carolyn Caywood, Retired
Virginia Beach Public Library