Monday, January 25, 2010

Children’s Books: F2M: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

Eighteen-year-old Skye is a member of an all-girl punk rock band. Skye has never felt like a girl. Inside, (s)he is Finn, a boy. Making the decision to let Finn be outside as well as in involves a lot of work. How do you tell your family and friends and the members of your feminist rock band that you’re going to undergo female-to-male treatment and surgery? Fortunately, there’s a family precedent: great-uncle Albert ... or is that great-aunt Alberta?

Skye/Finn could easily be a victim, but refuses. It isn’t going to be easy for anyone, but (s)he decides, finally, that family, friends and rock band will just have to live with it. And they do.

F2M: The Boy Within (Ford Street) goes into enormous detail about the procedures involved in what is known as FTM. It’s a lot less common than the other way around -- male to female -- although it has been in the news in the last couple of years, when a man who had kept his female “equipment” had a baby because his wife couldn’t. I knew a female-to-male myself. Unlike Skye, Jan became “David” in her/his 40s. Nobody, but nobody dared to call Jan a woman, even when she was! And David’s family and friends accepted it as Finn’s family do in the novel. F2M: The Boy Within also explores the punk rock sub-culture, which is interesting in its own right.

Ford Street Publishing has become known for taking on controversial subjects. It probably needs an author as well-known and respected as Hazel Edwards to get away with this one. Ryan Kennedy, her co-author, is himself an FTM, so knows what he is talking about.

F2M: The Boy Within is well-written and answers a lot of questions. It will certainly appeal to those teenagers who are asking themselves questions about their own gender identities. There are some likable characters in it and some nice touches of humour. There’s even the whimsical presentation of a couple who are a female-to-male and a male-to-female. Who are, incidentally, managing just fine. Finn doesn’t like the FTM, Rodney, but hey, he doesn’t have to.

Whether or not it will have appeal for ordinary teenagers I am not sure. I suspect they will be uncomfortable with it, though this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out there. Will kids who say, “That is so gay!” about anything negative get enthused about characters who are not actually gay but have gender issues? I won’t know until I have put this in my library and seen how the students react. Watch this space.

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