Note: This is different from my usual posts because it’s part of a class project!
Freakboy is a 2013 novel-in-verse by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.
(That means it is written
in poetry like
representing the characters’
thoughts, with some
l i k e t h i s.)
There are 3 points of view portrayed: Brendan, a high schooler questioning his gender identity; Vanessa, Brendan’s girlfriend; and Angel, a Latina trans woman working at a LGBTQ youth center who eventually intersects with Brendan. [Note: I use he/him pronouns to describe Brendan because none other are used in the text.] Because this is told in such a stream-of-conciousness manner, there are a lot of dark and uncomfortable thoughts that can be despairing and difficult to read, so definite trigger warnings for homophobia, transphobia, depression, and suicidal ideation. Because the book submerges you in this headspace, it would not be the first book I recommend to a student who might be questioning their gender identity and already going through these thoughts daily.
The story primarily follows Brendan questioning his gender and how that affects his relationship with his girlfriend. Angel’s sections are mostly about her life story, and it takes a while for her to intersect with Brendan. The plot is rather thin as a result. Unfortunately, details of the setting and other characters are also sparse. We get to know Brendan’s family situation, especially his little sister, but not much else. The setting is supposed to be contemporary California (so 2013), and Brendan and Vanessa attend a prep school, but literally everyone encountered in the school–including outside the toxic masculinity of the wrestling team–is homophobic, and brutally so. I find that a bit difficult to believe for the setting and, once again, not my first choice for teens confronting this issue because reading it honestly made me feel sick.
I am glad this book does address non-binary (neither strictly male or female) gender identities, but I think it missed many crucial educational opportunities because Angel enters Brendan’s story in a way relevant to her job so late. Gendered pronouns (he, she, they, etc), which are extremely important for trans people and something many cis people do not understand, are never discussed. Vanessa’s parts were a little unnecessary because we knew more than she did about why Brendan was acting distant, and when she did contemplate her own sexual orientation, it was quickly dismissed (referring to a “phase” from her past, which is highly biphobic language), and never allowed for a nuanced consideration of the complexities of gender and sexuality. The ending isn’t the bleakest it could have been, but I found it frustrating, and I suffered a lot to get there.
Websites Brendan may have visited when figuring out his identity in the book:
- GLAAD transgender resources
- Gender Spectrum
- Victoria Secret Bras
- World of Warcraft Fanart
- The Trevor Project: a crisis line for LGBTQ youth–this would have been a great place for Brenden could go when contemplating suicide
Video: Interview with the Author