June Thomas of Slate reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
Readers don't want authors only to create characters that look and think just like them. If white male writers published stories populated exclusively by white male characters, reading would be a dull business.
Still, I wasn't sure what to expect of "For Today I Am a Boy," published in January by Houghton Mifflin. The novel tells the story of Peter Huang, the only son of Chinese immigrants to Canada, who knows with utter certainty that he is really a girl. But Kim Fu, the book's author, is not herself transgender.
I can't speak to the authenticity of the book's portrait of a young trans character - I'll leave that to transgender readers and critics - but as a woman who has never felt particularly feminine, I found the book's exploration of gender performance fascinating and thought-provoking.
Growing up in a house with three sisters ruled by a strict father, Peter learns to dissemble. It's only when he leaves home and finds work in a Montreal restaurant that he starts to feel comfortable exploring new possibilities.
Fu, who worked as a professional chef, is great on the hypermasculinity of restaurant kitchens, and on the ways that people younger than Peter, who's in his mid-30s by the end of the book, are far more open to non-standard gender expression.
We still need more books by transgender authors, but "For Today I Am a Boy" is a beautifully written novel about a pleasingly complicated character.
Look for reviews of more new releases on the Slate Book Review at www.slate.com/books.