Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

For Today I Am a Boy

by Kim Fu


A fiercely assured debut novel about four second generation Chinese sisters, one of whom happens to be a boy.

Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544034723
ISBN-10: 0544034724
Pages: 256
Publication Date: 01/14/2014
Carton Quantity: 12

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Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivantgrow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.

At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name juan chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father's ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl.

Sensitive, witty, and stunningly assured, Kim Fu’s debut novel lays bare the costs of forsaking one’s own path in deference to one laid out by others. For Today I Am a Boy is a coming-of-age tale like no other, and marks the emergence of an astonishing new literary voice.

 

"A unique and mesmerizing story populated with characters who are fragile and strong all at once, who invite us to become them as they struggle with who they ultimately are. An important and rewarding read." — Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

Related Subjects

Fiction
Literature

Additional Assets

Kim Fu

KIM FU was born in 1987 and holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Seattle. Read More


Other Books By The Author


1

Boy

We called the wooden bleachers the Big Steps. They overlooked a pit of dust and gravel, generously called the field. I sat on the Big Steps and watched as two boys in my grade rooted around the edge of the field as though searching for a lost ball.

They emerged, each holding a long strip of wild grass. Ollie, the smaller of the two, didn’t have all his permanent teeth yet, so he wouldn’t give more than an unnerving, close-mouthed smile. Roger Foher, tall, ugly, and hulking, had ruddy-brown hair and a crooked nose.

I skipped down the Big Steps with some of the other boys. Half hidden around the corner, the playground teacher smoked and dropped ashes onto her gray dress, trying to set herself on fire. We formed a circle around Roger and Ollie. Another boy shoved me out of the way to get in close. He cheered with his fists balled.

Roger struck first, backhanding the grass in the circular sweep of a swordsman. I could still hear, over the shouting, the grass slicing through the air. It left a red welt on the milky skin of Ollie’s calf.

Ollie raised the grass over his head like a lion tamer with a whip. He cracked it on the shoulder of Roger’s T-shirt. The sound—the impact—was muffled by the fabric, and Roger laughed. Ollie stayed grim and silent; the first boy to cry out or bleed lost the game.

Roger struck the same spot again, crossing the welt into an X. Ollie’s grass wrapped limply around Roger’s side. Roger turned the X into an asterisk. Ollie got one solid hit, on the fleshy part of Roger’s upper arm. Roger continued to crisscross the same spot on Ollie’s leg.

I could smell the teacher’s cigarette, see its muted red dot against the gray sky. The boy beside me stamped his feet, stirring up the dust around us, throwing gravel against the back of my legs.

It was Roger’s turn. He paused, expectant, like an animal when it hears movement in the brush. Squinting his eyes, he pointed at Ollie’s leg. The jagged ladder of skin peaked in a spot too bright to be just a mark.

Roger raised his arms and spun around. Champion of the world. The other boys were quiet. The strong had beaten the weak; there was nothing exciting about that. The boy who had shoved me went to walk Ollie off the field. Ollie shoved him away.

The boys dispersed. I stuck around. Roger noticed me. “You played before?” he said, gesturing with his strand of grass, green and impotent now. I shook my head. “You should try it. It’ll make a man out of you.”

 

Two years earlier, in the first grade, we did all of our assignments in a slim composition book to be collected at the end of the year. I couldn’t imagine consequences that far away. Maybe I’d be dead by then, or living on the moon.

One of our assignments was What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. Our teacher had written several suggestions on the board: doctor, astronaut, policeman, scientist, businessman, and Mommy. Mommy was the only one with a capital letter.

Working in studious silence, I drew myself as a Mommy. I thought of the mommies in magazine ads and picture books, always bending at the waist over their tied aprons with their breasts on display—serving pancakes, wrapping presents, patting the heads of puppies, vacuuming sparkling-clean floors. I drew myself with a stiff halo of hair, swaddled babies around my feet. A satisfied smile from ear to ear. “I want to be a Mommy.”

Two days later, I found my notebook lying open on my bed. That page was ripped out. I asked Bonnie, my younger sister, if she’d done it. The evidence didn’t point to Bonnie: she could hardly have ripped so neatly, right from the staples, making it seem as though the page had never been there to begin with. There was no one else in the family I was willing to confront.

 

The year I became friends with Roger, we were asked again. I said fireman. A picture was optional. I worked furiously on mine. The fireman had an ax in one hand and a woman in the other, and his muscles were as bulbous as snow peas. Flames danced all around. I could imagine only being the woman, my arms around the thick neck of my savior, a high-heeled shoe dangling from my raised foot. I left my notebook open on the coffee table when I went to bed.

My father came into the room I shared with Bonnie after we were supposed to be asleep. I watched his shape swoop down like a bird to kiss Bonnie on the forehead. He stopped near my bed and saw the whites of my eyes. He patted me on the foot through the blanket. The door clicked shut. I stayed awake for a long time afterward, wiggling my warmed toes.

 

Ollie and I waited at the base of the Big Steps for Roger. I asked Ollie about his leg and he gave me a withering look, like I had asked something overly intimate. I tried to think of a topic that would interest him. I was used to talking with my sisters. “How did Roger break his nose?”

Ollie pointed to the end of the field, where Roger was jogging toward us. “One time, he said it was in a fight with his cousin, who lives across town. Another time, he said he tried to skateboard off his roof. Some girl asked him yesterday and he said he got struck by lightning.”

The boy who’d shoved me the day before came to join us. “Hey, Lester,” said Ollie. They nodded to each other.

“Hi, Peter,” Lester said. I gave him the same knowing nod and crossed my arms over my chest the way they did.

We didn’t speak until Roger arrived. “New game,” he said.

No fear crossed Ollie’s and Lester’s faces.

“I put three big rocks at the other end of the field,” Roger went on. “Last guy there gets them all thrown at him.”

Ollie and Lester nodded. I looked back. Behind us, I could see the yard teacher chastising a girl for chewing gum. There was no reason to bother with us. This was what boys did.

“Okay. Go!”

Ollie shot off immediately. Lester and Roger were close on his heels, and I followed. We broke right through some kids who were kicking a ball back and forth. Their shouts fell behind us.

My lungs seized up. I ran as fast as I could. The distance between me and their backs grew, became unbridgeable. As I watched Ollie crash into the fence with his arms out, and Lester and Roger slow to a stop, I considered turning and running the other way.

By the time I reached the end of the field, each of the boys held a stone in his hands. Roger tossed his back and forth between his palms. I doubled over, my hands on my thighs, and stared through my knees. I could hear a jump-rope rhyme coming from somewhere—musical voices, an even meter.

“Straighten up,” Roger said.

I tried to stand tall, but the moment they drew their arms back, I instinctively crouched and threw my hands over my face. With my eyes closed, I heard the stones hit: Thump. Thump. Thump.

They’d all missed.

Roger barked, “Peter! Stand still!”

They gathered up their stones again. Ollie caught my eye and quickly looked away. He was enjoying this—the victor at last, his fast, mousy frame good for something.

I couldn’t help myself. The stones left their hands and I dropped instantly down. The stones flew over my head.

 

“This isn’t working,” Lester said.

Roger’s even

Longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection for Spring 2014
A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

"Keep[s] you reading. Told in snatches of memory that hurt so much they have the ring of truth."
BUST Magazine

"In this impressive debut, Fu sensitively and poetically portrays Peter’s predicament so that readers feel his discomfort with his own body as well as his painful sense of yearning and the plight of his three sisters, who scatter in all directions to escape their unhappy home."
Library Journal

"Fu’s sharp eye and the book’s specificity of place (the Huangs live in small-town Canada, where Peter’s father does whatever it takes to fit in and the rest of his family lies to him) provide freshness. . . Although the focus is always Peter, Fu is adept at depicting the shifting alliances between him and his sisters, and at revealing how being an outsider shapes Peter’s expectations and options, which adds another layer to the story."
Publishers Weekly

"A young man [Peter] wrestles with gender expectations and his own gender identity in this quietly forceful debut...Peter’s search for a sense of normalcy—to finally become his female self—has a redemptive trajectory that feels fully earned. A study of transexuality that’s shot through with melancholy while capturing the bliss of discovering one’s sexual self."
Kirkus

“for readers seeking to better understand the trajectory of a young boy who knows he’s not like the other boys, this is a well-written and contemporary story.”
New York Journal of Books

"a heartbreaking tale of a guy certain he's a girl."
Cosmopolitan

"Overall Fu’s commentary is spot on, from her clear-eyed look at the repressive small town in which Peter grows up to her equally illusionless view of the urban, white, middle class LGBT activists Peter eventually encounters later in life. Yet her most remarkable achievement is in creating a quietly unforgettable character, one who is not meant to represent an 'average' or 'typical' trans life, but an individual one. This book brilliantly touches on many social issues, but it is also a story which shines all on its own. And Peter is a fully realized, fully unique character — one who will find his way into the hearts of readers everywhere."
—Bustle.com 

"For Today I Am a Boy is beautiful and captivating. Kim Fu reminds us that the human condition is one of change—of becoming, of overcoming—and this novel, in all its complexity, demonstrates how to do so with grace."
Justin Torres, author of We The Animals

 "A powerful first novel written with unwavering focus. Kim Fu explores the shape of gender and culture in a unique and mesmerizing story populated with characters who are fragile and strong all at once, who invite us to become them as they struggle with who they ultimately are. An important and rewarding read."
—Steven Galloway, Giller Award winning author of The Cellist of Sarajevo

"Fresh and pitch-perfect….A heart-searing twist on the coming-of-age tale…. Fu orchestrates a collision of culture, generation, gender and place, each crashing head on with her true observations and dark humor…. Immensely readable, and unquestionably human."
—Michael Christie, author of The Beggar’s Garden

"In For Today I Am a Boy Kim Fu gives us a memorable character trapped in the endless prism of identity. A thoroughly engrossing debut novel." 
—Hal Niedzviecki, author of Look Down, This Is Where It Must Have Happened