By Anya Shukla
I traveled to New Jersey last week, which was pretty exciting! A little break from the usual read book/write review/hang out in my room situation that’s been going on for the last few months. Ever since I left Starbucks, I spend most of my time doing work on the computer, so it was nice to step away and actually meet people in person.
Review: In Kim Fu’s “Today I Am a Boy,” Audrey*, the child of Chinese immigrants, knows she’s a girl from a young age. Yet because of cultural pressures and her family’s norms, she cannot express her gender identity. Through the duration of this book, which takes us through Audrey’s childhood to middle age, she discovers her full self.
Fu paints an culturally relevant, intense picture of the transgender experience. At times too dark, “For Today I Am a Boy” showcases brutally intimate characters and stories. My Rating: 4/5.
What I Loved: Although “For Today I Am a Boy” is a work of fiction, it feels like a memoir; I totally thought Audrey was a real person while reading. Every moment feels fleshed-out, down to a character’s footwear choices: “white shoelaces, with a hole at the toe of his sneaker” (pg. 30). Even the side characters—Audrey’s three sisters, her parents, her childhood friend—feel like complete human beings. Fu immerses me completely in Audrey’s world, allowing me to connect with the character and understand her struggles.
I also value how Fu showcases Audrey’s difficulties in navigating both her culture and identity. Audrey grows up in a conservative Asian family where her father dreams of having a boy. Even though Audrey never identifies as male, she strives to conform to her father’s expectations of masculinity. After her dad learns that Audrey and a group of her friends harassed a young girl, for example, Audrey feels “his approval like a warm glow… My father loved me” (pg. 52). In chasing this approval, Audrey continues to act in ways that contradict her internal feelings. In a family where you “eat what’s there or you starve” (pg. 374), as well as a culture that centers around appreciation for your elders, I can see how a desire for parental approval could prevent someone from expressing their true selves.
What I Didn’t Love: Several sections of the book—when Audrey falls in with toxic, “masculine” friends as a young child, when she meets an abusive lover who fetishizes her—feel incredibly raw. Fu narrows in on these scenes with laser focus, never once turning away from uncomfortable moments. There’s nowhere for a reader to hide.
For me, however, these scenes feel too intimate; I don't think these heavy sections were needed for the overall storyline. This Goodreads review, written by a white transgender woman, brings up some good points about these intense moments.
A Quote I Would Like On Goodreads: “The older you get, the more every trauma is the same trauma” (pg. 319).
Up next: “The Trouble With Hating You” by Sajni Patel.
*Audrey refers to herself as Peter and uses he/him pronouns throughout the book, but because the novel ends with her transitioning, I’m using the name “Audrey” (she/her) in this review.