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High school athlete Brendan wrestles with pronouns, his girlfriend Vanessa grapples to keep him from shutting her out, while Angel—a trans social worker and mentor—tackles her own demons in Kristen Elizabeth Clark’s beautifully crafted, often confessional, verse novel Freakboy.
In three distinct, alternating voices, Clark’s verse structure offers a visual game of connect the dots that in many ways parallels Brendan’s central conflict: to piece together gender and sexuality into one cohesive thought.
In Brendan, Clark creates a protagonist who is not often seen on the contemporary young adult bookshelf, confusing in all the best ways: Brendan is straight—”I like girls. Always have, even in elementary school”—yet rejects masculinity, “I hate touching other guys. I hate my own body.” He doesn’t fit into the neat categories of LGBT.
Angel, on the other hand, inhabits her own skin with ease. “My junk doesn’t dictate who I am,” she asserts. Realistically drawn and equally complex, Angel finds that her journey—within the narrative arc of the story and as a transfeminine individual—varies vastly from Brendan’s own; she understands his questioning and insecurity in the most profound ways.
Throughout the novel, Brendan tussles, both figuratively and literally, with his wrestling team members including his girlfriend Vanessa (the only girl on the men’s team). Yet, Brendan’s fiercest opponent is himself; as he comes to terms with the idea that the gender spectrum spans beyond male or female and that romantic attraction is rarely black and white. A smart, urgent, and wonderfully poetic coming out story.
By Kristen Elizabeth Clark
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Hardcover, 9780374324728, 448 pp.