Review: “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

FreakboyTitle: “Freakboy”

Author: Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Genre: YA contemporary, GLBT, free verse

Publication Date: October 22, 2013 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: 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 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.

☆: 4/5 stars – a really great (and badly needed) look into the trans part of the GLBT community!

Review: Yay, another book in YA addressing the trans population! This makes me happy. My co-blogger and I partially addressed this book in our LGBTQ Month of July post on the blog, but it’s time for a proper review. “Freakboy” follows the same free verse approach that Ellen Hopkins does, and for the most part, it works well with each character’s POV, getting across the main points of the book, and pumping up the tension a fair amount. Adding to my best of 2013 list, “Freakboy” is a book you simply can’t miss if you’re trans, or curious about the trans sub-culture within the LGBTQ community.

The biggest flaw of the book: sometimes, the way the free verse prose was structured (into firework shapes, etc) simply got a little too distracting. That was the thing that kind of irked me the most, because I felt like by creating a literal visual of the words and feelings that the characters were feeling at the moment, it took away the meaning of those words and feelings just by pure distraction. It happens multiple times throughout the book, and while I applaud Clark for being experimental with her prose, unfortunately, in some parts of the book, it just didn’t work for me.

However, the other traditional stanza approach that Clark took to the rest? It worked really well. It helped create the world, the characters, all of the important technical areas of the book I usually scrutinize pretty hard really well, and really easily. Best of all, it really helped us get into Brendan, Vanessa, and Angel’s heads. In terms of POV/narration, I feel like this was the best way Clark could have gotten across various important points of the book (example: just because you’re trans, doesn’t mean you entirely want to get the plumbing changed, and because your partner feels they may be trans doesn’t make your relationship a lie, etc). Everything is laid out clearly, simply, and bluntly – to the point, with little exposition or flowery prose. Usually, I dig flowery prose quite a bit, but I can see that with this book, and the way this story was told, it wouldn’t have worked as well as the free verse approach did.
What’s best of all? I’d say that Clark gets these characters (or if you want to think of them this way, archetypes) of how a outing happens down pretty well. There’s Angel, the awesome, sassy (my favorite) transgirl who has been to hell and back and has major wisdom. Brendan, the boy who may not be a boy, and Vanessa, his girlfriend. These three archetypes were played perfectly, all the way down to Vanessa making Brendan’s outing not about him or even helping him, but about herself, and the entire thing becoming a lie in her head, driving herself into a vicious spiral of narcissistic delusion as to what has actually occurred. As someone who identifies as genderfluid, the fact that this book got these archetypes right was a relief, as I did have my doubts about how everything would go down. As the whole trans/non-binary gender thing is now the final new brave new frontier in terms of gender and sexual identity, and the fact that the Big Six are starting to become willing to publish it is a great thing – but there’s always the worry that someone won’t get the facts correctly, or worse, drown the characters in stereotypical bullying, self-harm, or suicide. None of these things happened in this book, and for that I’m very, very glad.

Final verdict? If you’re curious about the trans community, or you generally want to learn more about it, definitely pick up “Freakboy”. It’s out October 22, 2013 from Macmillan in North America, so check it out when you get the chance!


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