By Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Genre: Verse Novel, Young Adult, Fiction
Reading Level: 7th grade
Interest Level: 12-18
Notables: ALA Rainbow Project Book List, Northern California Book Award Master List, & Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
Teaser: To the outside world, Brendan seems to have an easygoing life. But he has a secret: on the inside he feels like a freak!
Summary: Brendan plays videogames, he’s on the wrestling team, and he’s dating his perfect match, Vanessa. However, he does not feel like most other teenagers because he’s keeping a secret from everyone. Brendan sometimes feels inside that he should have been a girl. He begins to pull away from Vanessa in the fears that she will find out his secret. Wrestling is no longer fun because Brendan has come to hate his body and touching other guys. Vanessa is having her own struggles as her friends turn their backs on her because of how much time she spends with Brendan. When Brendan starts pulling away, Vanessa is sure that it’s something she’s done. She loves Brendan so much, but she no longer has any friends to talk to about why he is avoiding her. One day on the bus ride to school, Brendan meets a girl named Angel. Angel is a strong, confident, young women who transitioned from male to female. She loves working at Willows Teen Center and helping other LGBTQ youth. Her own history is rife with struggle. Trying to make ends meet, she had turned to prostitution until one night she was beaten severely and had to go to the hospital. Her family turned their back on her and Willows Teen Center was the only place that accepted her. Brendan’s journey to find himself comes to a head when he does research online and finds the word “Transsexual.” In his need to relieve his frustration he ends up walking down to the Willows Teen Center and throws a rock through their window. Sick with remorse, Brendan secretly sends money to pay back the damage done to the window. With help from Angel, Brendan continues to search within himself to help him understand what he wants.
Information about the Author: On Kristin Clark’s official website her bio reads, “Kristin Elizabeth Clark lives and writes in San Francisco, Ca. She is a believer in and an advocate for human kindness. As such, she pretty much tries to stay off of social media. Kristin writes, teaches workshops, and speaks on panels about social justice, diversity, and writing for children and young adults. She’s also host and founder of The Ocean Beach Poet’s Society.”
Critical Evaluation: The three different perspectives are a great way to show that being a teenager is a difficult time, especially for teens experiencing confusion about their sexual or gender identity. Since the whole book is in narrative verse, the reader is tasked with figuring out the parts of the story that are not explicitly said. This can get frustrating at times because there were a few passages that confused me. For example, the poem about Angel’s struggle as a transgender teen was not explicit enough. She references the “Sperm Donor” who beat her up (103). I could not tell if this was supposed to be her step-father or if this was supposed to be the person she gave a “five-dollar hand job” to, which is an important detail since the “Sperm Donor” is the one who beat her up. Originally, I did not even make the connection that she had been a prostitute. At this point, I think the “Sperm Donor” is referring to her step-father. Additionally, each narrator’s chapters are written in a different font from the others. This helps create the voice and personality for each of the characters. The poetic structures in the book consistently change, but the most powerful passages are the ones where the last words of each verse also connect to make a sentence. For example, a poem in the book titled “I pretend,” talks about the first time that Brendan dresses up as a girl. Some of the words at the end of the line are bigger and emphasized. When connected the line reads, “and now I’ve got another Secret” (96). Another aspect of the book that I like is the message that everyone is different even the teens being lumped together in the LGBTQ category. Clark makes sure to include that just because Angel is transgender does not mean that she thinks getting a surgery is necessary. Every teen is different. Brendan is worried that he is a freak, simply because he had never heard the term “gender fluid” before.
Curriculum Ties: Civil Rights Movement, Human Sexuality, Poetry-Narrative Verse
Booktalk Ideas: Write a coming-out letter that either Brendan or Angel would have written to their families.
Challenge Issues: Sexual Identity, Vandalism, Physical Abuse, Prostitution
Challenge Resources: Rationale for Collection Choice (see “Why Did I Pick This”), Book Discussion Guide, Statistics on LGBTQ Suicide, YouTube Channel Dedicated to Teaching Parents about Their LGBTQ Youth, Library Selection Policy, ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom, and Reconsideration Form
Why Did I Pick This: I picked this book because of its structure, format, content, and message. There are three different perspectives that teens have the opportunity to relate to in this book. There are serious issues and then issues that don’t seem that important, but to the characters feel very important (i.e. Vanessa spending too much time with her boyfriend). The format is non-traditional so that teens can see that there are alternatives to traditional literature that they might be more interested in reading. The content of this book is very important because it is about inner struggle, self-identity, and acceptance. The message that I think is most important to teens is that they are not alone.
Clark. K. E. (2013). Freakboy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.