In Fu’s debut novel, Peter realizes at an early age that he’s different from other people. While his Chinese immigrant parents hope for great things for him and even name him Juan Chaun, which means “powerful king,” Peter goes against his namesake and represents himself as feminine. This wish conflicts with the dreams of his father, who believes strongly in old-fashioned stereotypical gender roles. As Peter grows up, he not only hates his anatomical parts but also keeps his desires secret. He goes through the motions of building a life for himself but gets entangled in the lives of his sisters, who have managed to forge their own unique paths, again different from the stereotypical aspirations of their parents.
When Peter meets Claire, a repenting young woman with same-sex desires, they try to resist their true nature and help each other. Lonely and isolated, Peter realizes this is futile. During his developing friendship with John, a pre-op transgender man, Peter learns about the struggles of the GBLTQQ community. He finally begins his journey of self-acceptance and bonds with his three sisters who encourage Peter’s true self and his own dreams.
Characters are superbly described and developed, and Fu provides brief sections within the straightforward plot that epitomize Peter’s feelings. The novel is beautifully written, but Peter’s confusing and painful experiences are heartbreaking.
Woven into the narrative are details about China, the immigrant experience, and the attached stereotypes and expectations, making the story complex but focused. Peter and his father are actually very similar: both want to erase parts of their identity. Peter wants to rid himself of his gender while his father wants to eradicate any Chinese detail from his life. Neither of them succeeds in their endeavors, but they cope as best as possible.
This book is highly recommended for public libraries with a multicultural population or GLBTQ collections. The contrast between varying cultures would definitely appeal to these readers.
Reviewer: Judi Tichacek, librarian
Green Hills (IL) Public Library