FOR TODAY I AM A BOY
by KIM FU
HarperCollins (January 2014)
256 pages, $19.99 (Paperback)
REVIEWED BY ERIC WILKINS
“But I want to be like you,” I said, grabbing Adele’s knee. “I want to have hair like you. I want to be pretty like you.” Her sad, saintly expression frightened me.
“You can’t.” Helen had turned in her chair. Adele glared at her. “What?” Helen said. “He can’t. You can’t, Peter. You can be handsome, like Father or Bruce Lee.”
Peter Huang’s life is not an easy one. It’s a constant struggle. A fight to get by. It’s not merely the day-to-day toils of the workplace or school that trap Huang like so many others, though—it’s the confines of his own body. Kim Fu’s debut novel, For Today I Am A Boy, follows Huang as he tries to belong in a world where the son his father always hoped would grow into a strong man was one of his sisters from the start.
Fu’s debut novel wastes little time in painting the dark and uncomfortable world of her main character. From early on in the book, it’s painfully clear that Huang’s father has specific expectations for him; the twisted pride Huang’s father derives from even the most heinous action—so long as it’s masculine—gives the reader insight into Huang’s world. For instance, when a group of young boys and a reluctant Huang degrade a girl in the basest of fashions, the reaction from his father is shocking: He didn’t speak for a long time, just smiled… My father loved me.
As Huang navigates his difficult road as best he can, Fu paints the rest of the family in an equally dismal, but unquestionably fascinating light. For example, Father is obsessed with Westernizing the family. Cantonese is never spoken. Huang receives no middle name, rather than being given a Chinese one. Mother’s white fungus soup is thrown out without a word; split pea with ham is served the next evening. Huang’s sisters fare no better. Adele finds herself far from the once-promising path she had been on, tending to the squalor of a household in Berlin while her husband casually sleeps with another woman. Helen, the shrewd and successful one, gains little joy from her career—an army of pills is her most constant companion.
The timing of the subject matter, combined with evocative writing, makes For Today I Am A Boy an impossible novel to tear away from. Real world progression contrasts well with the struggle Huang (a child of the 1970s) faces. Fu’s first novel successfully establishes a world which is all at once horrifying, bittersweet, and realistic—altogether, it is a promising glimpse of Fu’s narrative skill.
This review was featured in issue 19.2
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