At birth, Peter Huang is given the Chinese name Juan Chaun, “powerful king.” To his parents, newly settled in small-town Ontario, he is the exalted only son in a sea of daughters, the one who will finally fulfill his immigrant father’s dreams of Western masculinity. Peter and his sisters grow up in an airless house of order and obligation, though secrets and half-truths simmer beneath the surface. At the first opportunity, each of the girls lights out on her own. But for Peter, escape is not as simple as fleeing his parents’ home. Though his father crowned him “powerful king,” Peter knows otherwise. He knows he is really a girl. With the help of his far-flung sisters and the sympathetic souls he finds along the way, Peter inches ever closer to his own life, his own skin, in this darkly funny, emotionally acute, stunningly powerful debut.
I’m certain this book review will come off as being a bit confusing and indecisive, as I myself, went back and forth with my feelings for this book. The open simplicity and wisps of metaphoric imagery carried throughout the book will immediately grab the reader’s attention and the intricate, sometimes scattered thoughts of Pete’s retelling of his life, from birth and through into his early twenties, is certain to hold the reader’s attention and interest from start to finish.
And while I really enjoyed getting to see how Peter and his family were as a whole and learning about how he and his sister grew up and went their separate ways, I was left feeling as though the execution of this story could have been handled better. For Today I Am A Boy is, as a whole, a coming of age story and several snippets of the past we are shown do a great job of reflecting not only Peter’s awareness that he did not feel like a boy (or want to be a boy) but they also reveal his compliance to be the son his father always wanted him to be and the boy/man that others expected him to be.
Now with the first person narrative, I was sometimes left to wonder how much of what Peter was telling me was true and what was meant to be left up to the imagination. Whatsmore, most of the time, I did not feel that story gave the reader enough attention to Peter’s voice when it came to his feelings and thoughts as he was recounting the lives of those around him. It wasn’t until Peter moves out of his parents home that I felt I was finally getting a clearer understanding of his character.
Peter comes off as confused and conflicted throughout the entire book and extremely passive in the narrative, which made him seem extremely detached from some of the scenes he talked about. And when I say he comes off as confused and conflicted, I mean in the sense that it kind of wasn’t always clear if his character was expressing he was gender fluid or felt trapped in the wrong body.
It was really this back and forth confusion that caused my own back and forth with the narrative. I understood the pressure Peter felt in regards to his father and the high expectation that were placed upon him as the only boy and the journey he takes to finally be able to live life as his true self.
But the open-endlessness of this story over whether the character continued life as Peter or Audrey once he leaves his friends at the end just didn’t do it for me. I like knowing things and wanted a definite sense of closure with this books. I would still recommend this book for others to read as the author’s unique, narrative approach and the context is extremely intriguing and thought provoking. I only wish that I had something else to compare this book/context to, but I don’t–yet.