Annabel by Kathleen Winter

annabelWayne is growing up with a secret that he doesn’t fully understand, and secrets are hard to keep in small, remote towns where everyone knows your business. A baby is born in Labrador in 1968, a baby who by all appearances is both boy and girl at once. A quick decision is made, the child is christened as Wayne, and despite the concoction of pills and hormones he is treated with, something is never quite right.

As a confused young child, he doesn’t understand why his likes and desires – preferring synchronized swimming to hockey, or playing ‘house’ with a neighbour’s daughter instead of building a fort – aren’t the same as his friends, and are embarrassing to his father.  He is raised as a boy in a man’s world, but has no interest in his father’s life of hunting and trapping. Like all teenagers, and yet many times more problematic, he struggles to make friends, to fit in.

Wayne’s mother is never happy with her husband’s decision to raise the child as a boy. She loves her son, yet mourns her daughter. Her friend, the midwife and only other person to know truth about Wayne, secretly christens the child Annabel, in memory of the daughter she lost years before. Kathleen Winter has done an incredible job with the creation of Wayne/Annabel, in drawing the reader in to feel his angst, pain and gender confusion. His is such a heartbreaking story, but not without its own beauty and sense of hope.

This novel was mesmerizing. I wasn’t sold on it based on the book jacket or marketing summaries. Having read “Middlesex” (Jeffrey Eugenides) a few years back I guess I thought a novel about a hermaphrodite was already done, nothing to get excited over. I’m embarrassed to say it sat on my shelf unread for almost two years. But consistently, I heard rave reviews from people whose opinions on books I take very seriously. I knew I had to read it, and so finally did.

I have joined the ranks of the rave reviewers. This book was excellent.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: House of Anansi Press Inc.; 1st Edition edition (May 31 2010)
ISBN-10: 0887842364
ISBN-13: 978-0887842368

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