For Today I Am a Boy

Image of For Today I Am a Boy
Release Date: 
January 10, 2014
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by: 

“. . . the story of a struggling LGBT youth on a journey toward self-understanding. . . . a well-written and contemporary story.”

In the last two decades, American attitudes toward homosexuality and LGBT identities have changed markedly. American stories have changed, too. There are now several YAL novels focused on gay and lesbian youth “coming out.” There are also a handful of acclaimed adult stories on LGBT awakening, including the award-winning Brokeback Mountain and the powerful novel The World of Normal Boys.

Now Kim Fu’s challenging debut For Today I Am a Boy takes on the story of a struggling LGBT youth on a journey toward self-understanding.

Ms. Fu brings us a young man, Peter, whose gender identity and preferences are decidedly female. In addition, Peter is the only son of a father who has named him after a warrior king, and a member of the only Chinese immigrant family in a rural Ontario town. So Peter faces bigotry and isolation born out of ethnic and cultural difference from his neighbors as well as confusion and intolerance from his parents, particularly his father.

Ms. Fu focuses primarily on Peter’s quest to understand his gender identity and achieve happiness. She shows us a boy who from his earliest memories knows he is different from the other boys. For example, Peter wanted no part of the stick fights that enthralled the other boys in his neighborhood. Instead, he had a fondness for the quiet domestic tasks performed by his mother and sisters.

As a young adult, Peter developed his first crush on an older man, Chef, who lives in Montreal. On Peter’s agitation, his parents drop him off in Montreal after a confused and melancholy car ride. They resolve to leave Peter there for a year with only a suitcase of clothes and $100. Peter gets a job in a restaurant and moves into a small flat near a university. Here, a pining Peter thinks about Chef as he scans the scenery:

“I looked for Chef everywhere. The beautiful university boys on the steps were too young, too lean, too well groomed. Shirtless in the sunlight, they revealed gym muscles that lacked his brutality. Our one hug grew into a love affair in my mind.”

Yet Ms. Fu is wise to make For Today I Am a Boy more than the story of Peter’s sexuality. There are a number of secondary plots in this book. The most moving and involved subplot revolves around the disappointment of Peter’s immigrant father, who simply cannot understand his son. Peter also has complicated relationships with his sisters, one of whom Peter admires primarily because she is more beautiful than the other. In this and other ways, Ms. Fu makes sure we understand that Peter—although a sympathetic character—is far from perfect.

Much of the latter half of the book is built around Peter’s gender confusion and a series of difficult and abusive sexual encounters, i.e., a narrow minded ministry seeking to cure (or at least suppress) his homosexuality. Much of this content is sad and sometimes a little clichéd. But Ms. Fu ends For Today I Am a Boy on a high note.

For Today I Am a Boy will not be for everyone, and Ms. Fu’s “you can be happy by being yourself” message is simplistic. But 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.