Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 1/14/2014
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Peter is celebrated by his Chinese parents, who had been waiting for years to have a son, from the moment he is born. As he grows, he feels forced to live up to the high expectations of his overbearing father while surrounded by his three vastly different sisters and submissive mother. Yet, from a young age, Peter feels sure he is a girl, making the norms set by his father seem like impossible goals to reach.
Where Peter’s female identity is silently recognized by his sisters from childhood, he never breaches the subject with his parents, though his father routinely drills him on the importance of masculinity. Still, his struggle with gender identity is not necessarily the central focus of the novel, as it is not a public feature of Peter’s life. Instead, it weighs as a burden, hidden in the private thoughts and actions that impact every decision in his coming-of-age story.
“Who were these kids? What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves, to ask how the texture of a mushroom made them feel? To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls? You eat what’s there or you starve.”
After reading Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin, a novel with similar themes that I also loved, For Today I Am a Boy stands out for its willingness to embrace the differences in individual experiences. Fu gracefully balances ideas of self, cultural identity and acceptance in a novel that readers won’t soon forget.