‘For Today I Am a Boy’
By Kim Fu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
You’ve planned for it, dreamed of it, wished it would happen. You imagined yourself with it and envied those who had it: family, vacation, money, success, a sibling, a pony. Whatever it was, it’s been your most fervent desire since forever.
Yes, you’ve wanted it your whole life but, as in the novel “For Today I Am a Boy” by Kim Fu, you might not have fully realized it.
Peter Haung should have inherited the keys to the kingdom.
He’d been the answer to his parents’ prayers: a long-awaited boy, given a Cantonese middle name that meant “powerful king.” He would be the son who would not shame his father.
It was a role that Peter didn’t want. Truth was, he didn’t know what he wanted.
All his life, he admired his beautiful oldest sister, Adele. She was patient, generous and agreeable, the sort of person others took advantage of. Peter wanted to be Adele, but he didn’t want the things she did to get by.
He loved steadfast Helen but she seemed incapable of anything but study. Constantly reminded that her destiny was law school, she knew that she was nonetheless a disappointment to her parents. Books couldn’t change her gender, but they could get her out of Fort Michel, Ontario.
Sassy, cute Bonnie was the little sister to whom Peter was closest in age and camaraderie. It was Bonnie who participated in Peter’s schemes, Bonnie whose hair Peter styled. They shared a bed when they were young, and pretend-games as they grew — the latter of which was a secret, lest they anger their father.
Father would be livid if he knew that Peter wore his sisters’ clothes and make-up. Their father never touched them — in anger or affection — yet the feelings that welled up in Peter would certainly have made him furious.
Peter tried sports and dating girls. He tried to get used to “the thing” that extended from his groin, and he tried a religious “camp” to fix his longings. He tried all his life to be a good son — and maybe that was the problem.
Here’s a little warning for you: from the first sentence of the prologue, it’ll be hard to resist “For Today I Am a Boy.”
That’s because this is an absolutely gorgeously told story that author Kim Fu hands us. But it’s so appealingly melancholy, too. For the first two-thirds of this book, Peter is unsure of his own desires, other than to become like his sisters. Fu gives him a sense of confusion that’s almost surreal at times. We sometimes can’t decide whether he’s thinking or doing, and it’s difficult to predict what will happen to him. As a literary device, the guessing game thoroughly works. And the ending is absolutely perfect.
This is a relatively short book that you’ll want to make last. It’s both moving and sad, but hard to put down.