By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Oct. 23, 2014.
You’ve planned for it, 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.”
It was a role that Peter didn’t want. The 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 a disappointment to her parents.
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 and 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 makeup. 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.
Fair warning: From the very first sentence of the prologue, it’ll be hard to resist For Today I Am a Boy.
Fu hands us an absolutely gorgeously told story that is 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, which leaves readers unsure of whether he’s thinking or doing. And it’s difficult to predict what will happen to him, and the will-he-won’t-she guessing leads right up to the novel’s perfect ending.
This is a relatively short book that you’ll want to make last. It’s moving and sad, but hard to put down. So, if that’s what you need, then this is the book you want.