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Male? Female? Other?

FreakBoy. Kristen Elizabeth Clark takes on the forgotten T in LGBT.

Male? Female? Other?

BOOK REPORT for FreakBoy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Cover Story: Unisex Bathroom
Drinking Buddy: All Three of You
Testosterone Level: Kind of a Tasteless Category, Don't Ya Think?
Talky Talk: Stream of Consciousness
Bonus Factors: lgbT, Mentor
Bromance Status: We're Still Bros, Even if You are a Girl

Cover Story: Unisex Bathroom

While I'm sure the artist was going for some sort of male/female motif, all I can see is the international sign for a unisex bathroom stall.

The Deal:

Brendan is dealing with a lot in his life. He's a good wrestler, but doesn't enjoy it. He has a great girlfriend, Vanessa, but sometimes has difficulty opening up to her. He has a stepfather whom he detests, and a little half-sister whom he adores.

And one more thing: a growing, incessant feeling that he was meant to be a girl. Though he desperately tries to crush these thoughts, he is becoming more and more convinced that he is female. How on earth is he supposed to deal with this? Who can he talk to?

Vanessa, meanwhile, worries that her wonderful boyfriend is becoming bored with her. After all, she's the only female on the wresting team. Ironically, Vanessa fears that Brendan thinks she's not feminine enough.

And then there's Angel, a local couselor at the LGBT youth center. Angel understands how hard it is for questioning young men. After all, she used to be one. Of course, she has her own issues. At what point on a date to you mention that you fought hard to make your outside match your insides?

Drinking Buddy: All Three of You

I kept having to remind myself that Brendan, Vanessa and Angel are fictional characters and I don't need to worry about them. Lord, I just wanted to sit down with them (over a beer) and tell them everything was going to be okay. And more to the point, get them to open up. All three of them are carrying demons inside that a simple conversation could exorsise.

Vanessa needs to hear that Brendan loves her, and that his personal problems aren't due to a lack of interest. Vanessa drives herself nuts trying to figure out what went wrong with their perfect relationship.

Angel is feeling horrible guilt over the fact that she's counseling Brendan outside of the office. True, all they're doing is playing video games, but that's still a no-no. But she continues to put her career on the line, rather than ask Brendan to come see her at the center and risk scaring him off.

And Brendan. He knows that if his secret ever gets out, his life will never be the same. But by living a lie, you're hurting a lot of people...and Brendan is at the top of that list.

Testosterone Level: Kind of a Tasteless Category, Don't You Think?

I mean, testosterone is the very thing making Brendan unhappy.

Other than some wrestling scenes, this isn't a high-action book. Brendan is a very angry, confused young man. His stepfather is a jackass who recently paid for Brendan's mother to get breast implants (but does he make the same offer to Brendan? Noooo). His coach is a dick who constantly calls him a girl and refers to him as 'Brenda' (sigh). And when Angel gently suggests he come to the LGBT center, he reacts in a typical angry, confused way.

The action in this book isn't physcial, it's mental. And it left me exhausted.

Talky Talk: Stream of Consciousness

This is not a typical novel. Each chapter is narrated by Brendan, Vanessa, or Angel, just talking about what's on thier mind. While this may be offputting to some readers, it make for an easy to read book. Though it's over 400 pages, I finished this novel in one day. The author also avoided easy solutions to everyone's problems. This situation is going to be hard for everyone, but it's by no means hopeless.

Bonus Factor: lgbT

While LGBT rights have been increasing by leaps and bounds recently, that last letter is often lagging behind. There are hundreds of books for gay youth, but maybe half a dozen about transgender teens. I'm glad to see that Clark is making an effort to fill that void. Brendan is a very likable character, and readers unfamiliar with transgenderism can still sympathize with his struggles. How do you tell someone who loves you that things are not going to work out? How do you tell the world that you're not the person they expect you to be? How do you react when people you thought were your friends refuse to stand by you during the rough times?

I especially liked that the author made Brendan's attraction to Vanessa genuine. Gender identity and sexual identity are two different things, something not everyone understands.

Bonus Factor: Mentor

When researching Almost Perfect, I interviewed a lot of trans people. The most common theme I heard, especially among those who came of age before the internet era, was that no one understood their issues. And it's not that people didn't try to understand or want to help, but many people have simply never met someone who's external gender conflicted with their insides. That's why Angel is so great.

She doesn't force Brendan to talk about things he still can't admit to himself. When Brendan screws up, she doesn't demand payback. And when he finally does open up, Angel doesn't insist that he buy a dress and change his name, nor does she try to get him to suppress his feelings. Angel helps Brendan understand that he is who he is. Maybe he's a boy, maybe he's a girl. Maybe he's a boy who likes to look pretty. Maybe he's a woman with male genitalia. That's up for Brendan to discover, and there's no hurry. But now he has a friend he can talk to. And to LGBT youth, that can make all the difference in the world.

Angel herself is one of my favorite YA characters of all time. She's sassy and in your face, but not a mincing drag queen. She's dealt with an abusive stepfather and a brother who has disowned her. She's been homeless and has been forced to sell her body. She's been assaulted and feared for her life. But she's overcome all that to become a role model for kids who need her.

Halfway through the book, she celebrates her twentieth birthday.

You go, girl.

Bromance Status: We're Still Bros, Even if You are a Girl

I think this book and I are destined to be friends for a long time. And I don't care if you're my bro or my sister, friendship is friendship.

Disclosure: Farrar, Straus and Grioux sent me a copy of this book for free, but totally ignored my hints for a kickback. Freakboy comes out in October.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.