For my second Queer YA Scrabble post, I’m going to be talking about the contemporary verse novel Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clarke!
From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?
In Freakboy’s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.
This book has been on my radar for ages and I’m so so glad I finally got the chance to read it. I’d heard lots of good things about it and it really didn’t disappoint – I was blown away!
The book is told through the point of view of three characters. Brendan is the main character and is confused about his gender identity. He doesn’t feel like he fits in with his group of mates at school. When he does some research on the internet and discovers the word ‘transgender’, he starts wondering if he might be trans. But he doesn’t quite feel like the label fits. Brendan is feeling uncomfortable and confused and this is made worse because he feels he can’t talk to anyone about what he’s going through. A large part of the story shows the mental health issues that arise from this confusion and the feeling that there is no one to talk to. Brendan is depressed and withdraws from his circle of friends. It was so interesting to read about his internal struggle.
Vanessa is Brendan’s girlfriend. She loves Brendan but she sees that he hasn’t been himself lately. Even though he’s always had his quiet and down moments, she feels things are getting worse. Vanessa is a fascinating character. She is on the wrestling team with Brendan and questions her identity as she is seen as a tomboy. This makes her wonder who she is if she doesn’t fit in with other girls.
The third point of view is Angel, a young trans woman of colour. She works at an LGBT youth centre and meets Brendan there. She has an ethical dilemma when she sees Brendan needs help at the centre but knows full well he won’t be coming back. She decides to give him her number in case he needs a friend to talk to. There is such a deep feeling of isolation that can come with having doubts about gender identity and sexuality in a not-so-tolerant society that having someone to talk to can be a real lifeline for many teenagers. Unlike Brendan, Angel has always known she was a girl and she’s entirely comfortable in her own skin. We follow her journey towards making more adult decisions.
I very much enjoyed reading the three different perspectives and exploring the internal struggles of all the characters. This is a story about accepting yourself and that “fitting in” isn’t the be all and end all.
The writing is what made this book so much more powerful for me. The verse style seems to highlight and underscore the emotional turmoil the characters are going through. I haven’t read many verse novels so I wasn’t sure how much the style would complement the story but this book has made me a complete convert. It was extremely moving to be in the three main characters’ heads and hear their thoughts.
There are very few books about gender identity and I found this one to be beautifully written and also a necessary look into gender identity, gender fluidity and gender social expectations. A must read.
Kristin Elizabeth Clark lives and writes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Northern California. She hikes with her dog and reads to her cats… but she’s not one of THOSE people. Really.
She has worked as a child advocate within the juvenile justice system, as a children’s theater producer, and is a proud volunteer at Project Outlet in Mountain View, California.
Don’t forget to browse through the articles I’ll be posting this weekend (all links in my intro post here) for the hidden letters to solve the anagram and to be in with a chance of winning the Team Griffin box (click here!). Tune in tomorrow morning for an extract of Red Caps by Steve Berman!