For Today I Am a BoybyKim Fu is an engrossing and readable novel about a young man named Peter Huang, the only son in a family of three sisters, a silent and stifled mother, and a Chinese patriarchal father whose ingrained attitudes about manhood are both proud and resolute.
In this lyrical debut, Fu creates a truthful portrait of a young man whose sensitive and effeminate nature delves him further into the recesses of his true desire—to fully identify himself as a woman.
The plot explores Peter’s internal and private torment, his abhorrence towards the body he was born with and the insistent desire for the kind of body he lacks. While his own genitalia repulses him, his desire for women only goes as far as his admiration for their beauty and femininity, and his wish to ultimately emanate them.
But, this tendency is often repressed, exposed first in small doses at a time within the safety of his sisters’ bedrooms and their trust; to the absence of his family while he is left to clean in the privacy of their home; to sexual exploration with BDSM with a dominant woman; to the stifling relationship with a lesbian-turned-Christian; and to the exposure to people of the LGBTQ community who encourage him to live out his fantasy if not for one day during Halloween.
While the male stereotype is often dominantly imposed by Peter’s father and his expectations of him, Peter himself is tortured with his own feelings of guilt and shame, struggling often between his compulsion and desire to live out the female identity that is his true, internal nature and the gender role, society has come to expect of him as a male. The result is a fiercely honest dialogue of identity crisis, repression, and hopefully for the reader and the main character — emancipation.
About the Author:
Kim Fu’s novel FOR TODAY I AM A BOY (2014) was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Prize, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and winner of the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. Her writing has been widely published and anthologized, including by the Atlantic, NPR, Maisonneuve, and Best Canadian Essays. Her first poetry collection HOW FESTIVE THE AMBULANCE will be published by Nightwood Editions in 2016. Fu is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Seattle.
A chilling and intense first novel, this is the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.
When Leila discovers the website Red Pill, she feels she has finally found people who understand her. A sheltered young woman raised by her mother, Leila has often struggled to connect with the girls at school; but on Red Pill, a chat forum for ethical debate, Leila comes into her own, impressing the website’s founder, a brilliant and elusive man named Adrian. Leila is thrilled when Adrian asks to meet her, and is flattered when he invites her to be part of “Project Tess.”
Tess is a woman Leila might never have met in real life. She is beautiful, urbane, witty, and damaged. As they email, chat, and Skype, Leila becomes enveloped in the world of Tess, learning every single thing she can about this other woman–because soon, Leila will have to become her.
An ingeniously plotted novel of stolen identity, Kiss Me First is brilliantly frightening about the lies we tell–to ourselves, and to others, for good, and for ill.
Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet
Kiss Me First, a debut novel by Lottie Moggach, is a creative and surprising story with a wonderfully original plot about two, very different women:
Leila, young, intelligent, yet fiercely logical, and somewhat sheltered in her experiences that she not only considers herself a social outcast, but is attracted to and driven to the isolation and comfort of the online forums hosted by an addictive, philosophical website called Red Pill.
And Tess, a vibrant, charismatic woman whose hunger for attention only temporarily masks her need for solitude and anonymity, who experiences the severity of both mood-changing symptoms as a result of the extremity found in those with bipolar disorder.
While one woman’s life is too emotionally buoyant that she decides the only way to cope is to commit suicide, another woman’s life is so isolated that she not only considers herself insignificant, but she also seriously considers taking on another person’s identity entirely.
The two women literally connect through the Internet to devise a plan, which suits both their different needs, and in doing so, test the boundaries of what is considered to be morally correct.
The first-person narrative easily reveals the dichotomy of the two women while its readability makes the mysterious plot not only believable, but also well-paced and engaging.
Readers engage the narrative as their own, fully immersing themselves in the characters’ neurosis, empathizing with the realism in which the work is written.
For a debut novel, the writing is convincing: both distinct voices reveal the neurosis the characters inhabit, it reveals the inner workings of bipolar disorder, and the danger of the role technology continues to play in our lives, in how people can prefer to hide or create virtual realities for themselves instead of fully participating in the real world.
While the characters are interesting enough, it’s the creative plot that will reel its readers in—and then twist them about in surprise, from its trip to disease and hospital, to an apartment above an Indian restaurant, to a freestyle commune, the virtual philosophies of Red Pill, to the head space of an online, intimate, and secret romance.
The story blurs the lines between where a person ends and another person begins, and puts to question the autonomy someone has over his or her life, the ethics associated with suicide and euthanasia, and the dangers of isolation, insecurity, and the impressibility of youth, and those who would take advantage of the vulnerable.
Readers may feel conflicted about the choices the characters feel compelled to make, the morality and/or immorality surrounding those choices, and question the ease in which fraud can take place because of society’s trust with online activity and the Internet.
Overall, the book is a wonderful surprise filled with emotional drama, dilemma, and virtual love, and compromise. For anyone who enjoys reading contemporary fiction and is interested in the mystery of bipolar disorder, the moral issues associated with suicide and euthanasia, the subtext of complicated relationships, and the growing immersion of society in technology, and the ease in which people can become prey to their insecurities, The First Kiss,by Lottie Moggach, is a poignant and disturbing novel.
*** Characters: 4 stars
Pacing: 4 stars
Cover Design: 2.5 stars
Plot: 4.5 stars
A special thanks to Random House of Canadaon behalf of Doubleday Canada for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.
About the Author:
Lottie Moggach is a journalist who has written for The Times, Financial Times, Time Out, Elle, GQ and The London Paper. She lives in north London. Kiss Me First is her first novel.
In light of Asian Heritage Monthand Mother’s Day, the posts on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet will feature children’s books and stories about and originating from Asian countries every day of this week.
To not only celebrate the beauty of Asian culture, it’s also important to share cultural stories with children to broaden their understanding of the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity.
Today’s children feature is about books and stories about and originating from Japan.
The Paper Crane
Author: Molly Bang
Format: Children’s Hardcover, 18 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (imprint of HarperCollins)
Pub Date: 1985
This children’s story is based on an old Japanese folktale of the paper crane. It is a modern story of a man and his son who own a restaurant on a “busy” road that eventually loses most of its patrons because a new highway is built that deters customers from passing by the family owned restaurant.
One evening an unnamed stranger enters the restaurant, but does not have any money to pay for food. Regardless of this, the owner of the restaurant welcomes him in and served him the “best meal he could make and served him like a king.”
The stranger who could not pay with food, paid instead with a paper crane that he folded from a napkin in the restaurant.
And it was only when the owner clapped his hands that the paper crane would come to life and dance.
The news of the dancing crane spread around the community and soon people travelled to the restaurant to see this magic bird. And because of this the owner was able to host many guests at his restaurant.
The Paper Crane by Molly Bang is a story of kindness and teaches the importance of compassion and community regardless of difficult circumstances. It’s also a modern rendering of an old folktale that encourages the belief and faith in legendary magic and the result of in acting with integrity.
The illustrations are three-dimensional paper cutouts in correlation to its theme of the paper crane and is a light story to introduce children to a folktale of Japan.
Chibi: A True Story from Japan
Authors: Barbara Brenner and Julia Takaya
Illustrated by: June Otani
Format: Children’s Hardcover, 64 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books (imprint of Houghton Mifflin)
Pub Date: 1996
Chibi is a true story of the Spotbill Duck who built her nest beside a pool in an office park in downtown Tokyo and raised her duckling until she could transfer them to the moat in the Emperor’s Gardens across the Uchibori Dori.
The arrival of the ducks in the city had caused a stir of media frenzy including bird watchers and enthusiasts.
When the ducks were finally able to reach the moat, a typhoon struck killing two ducklings with one favoured duckling gone missing. A search party for the duckling ensued until the two deceased ducklings were found and the other found “balanced like a surfer on a piece of Styrofoam.”
Because of this, the Emperor who had learned of the kamo, ordered a duck house be built in the moat of the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo, which still stands there today while the Mitsui Company of Tokyo also placed a duck house on the pond of the office park for returning duck families.
The story of Chibiis a children’s historical story that documents the true events of a particular Spotbill Duck family that aroused Tokyo’s interest alongside the emperor’s. It includes illustrations and a few Japanese words with a language index at the end of the book.
Tea with Milk
Author: Allen Say
Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Pub Date: 1999
Tea with Milkis a true story of a young, Japanese girl named Masako who was born and raised in America and later returns to native Japan with her parents, but essentially feels like an outsider, having been raised in a foreign country.
Tea with Milkby Allen Say is a wonderful inversion of the cultural demise of new immigrants at the introduction of their immigration experience in a foreign country. Though the main character, Masako, is of Japanese ethnic descent, she is culturally raised as a young American girl.
Upon returning to native Japan with her parents, her acceptance and assimilation proves to be difficult as her first language is English not Japanese and her views on work and marriage more liberal than the expectations of her family and her Japanese culture.
The art illustrations in the book are beautiful and realistic paintings and portraits of Masako, her family, and her life in Osaka, Japan.
It’s an important story about culture, racism, and issues of identity and a wonderful “coming-of-age” and “identity” story of a young girl who must defy cultural traditions in order to discover self-acceptance, happiness, and love.
To read more posts for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event,please visit here.
What’s one thing you appreciate most about Japan and the Japanese culture?
If you have children, how do you teach them about inclusivity?
The month of May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada, which is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the history of Asian Canadians. Except right now, it’s still March—and I’m still very much proud to be an Asian.
This small reminder happened when my family and I went to visit IKEA this past weekend. While we browsed through the showroom and finally reached the children’s section just before the restaurant and the Market Place, we passed by a bin of plush dolls.
What made me stop while I would have otherwise just passed by was the final arrival of a doll that represented an Asian likeness.
As an Asian woman growing up in the early 70’s as a daughter born to recently landed, hard-working immigrants from the Philippines and a daughter born as a native to Canadian soil—I was born a product of a dichotomy—the east and the west.
And though I don’t speak of it often, I did grow up during a time when racism and discrimination towards Asians and what “used to be” ethnic minorities were vocal and ran rampant.
Being “Filipino” was unrecognized. My identity and culture was “lumped” into the abyss of Asian geography, a silent map that blinked its slanted eyes in wounded awareness.
I was ridiculed as a child and verbally abused in school, taunted with threats that shouted, “Move back to your country, you f—ing chink!” I couldn’t stand taking the bus to school and I hated recess.
When I complained to the teacher on duty and told her what the kids in the yard were calling me, she asked in a condescending tone, “Well, you are Chinese, aren’t you?”
She was wrong on many counts:
1) I am not Chinese. I am a Filipina.
2) There isn’t anything wrong with being Chinese.
3) Why in the world did she condone such brutality in the schoolyard?
4) Why was she an active participant in racism and discrimination against a four-year-old child and a teacher?
Her answer was not only devastating to me, but instilled my first experience of distrust in adults, teachers, and those in authoritative positions. I had always believed teachers were intelligent and fair creatures. That day, I was taught otherwise. It was the beginning of a life-long lesson that drove me to justice advocacy in all forms especially for the marginalized.
It also instilled in me at a young age, a self-questioning seed of my identity that transpired into an unnamed fear, a self-hatred, a parallel racism. And one I have had years to work against.
I hated my flat nose. I envied blonde hair. I was embarrassed by the smell of the food my parents cooked, afraid the fish scent would travel with me when I left the room. And in toy stores, there were no dolls that looked like me. Barbie was a far cry from what I looked at in the mirror as a child.
And so, it’s taken years to eventually unravel the psychological damage done by those who were not ready to understand or accept someone who they deemed catastrophically different from them based on an old ignorance.
The joy I felt, though late, when I saw this Asian doll while shopping at IKEA, re-surfaced an old anger, a confusion that a four-year-old Filipina girl had no vocabulary to articulate. And it wasn’t because I couldn’t speak English. I could. I do. (I even studied it all the way into university and hold a degree!)
Okay, so it’s not a rights activist protest or camp out (yes, I’ve been part of those, too). But it’s a beginning. A reaffirmation that those who have scorned me and others like me based on ethnicity alone, have been pushed aside to understand that we are not only visible—we are at the very least, acknowledged.
I am still a product of a cultural dichotomy. But, I’m also Canadian. Native born. English-speaking. And as part of an interracial marriage, my children, too, are part of a growing cultural complexity.
The doll was bought and claimed by my two-year-old daughter. I can, with its help, reaffirm to her, who she is, and why she’s beautiful…
Books and nooks. Writing and reading between the pages.