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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

F2M: The boy within. By Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy. Melbourne, Ford Street, 2010.

Eighteen-year-old Skye is a member of an all-girl punk rock band. Skye has never felt like a girl. Inside, (s) he is Finn, a boy. Making the decision to let Finn be outside as well as in involves a lot of work. How do you tell your family and friends and the members of your feminist rock band that you’re going to undergo female-to-male treatment and surgery? Fortunately, there’s a family precedent: great-uncle Albert … or is that great-aunt Alberta?

Skye/Finn could easily be a victim, but refuses. It isn’t going to be easy for anyone, but (s)he decides, finally, that family, friends and rock band will just have to live with it. And they do.

The book goes into enormous detail about the procedures involved in what is known as FTM. It’s a lot less common than the other way around – male to female – although it has been in the news in the last couple of years, when a man who had kept his female “equipment” had a baby because his wife couldn’t. I knew a female-to-male myself. Unlike Skye, "Jan" became “David” in her/his forties. Nobody, but nobody dared to call Jan a woman, even when she was! And David’s family and friends accepted it as Finn’s family do in the novel. At his funeral, the nephews and nieces referred to "Uncle David", even when he was no longer there to get upset.

The novel also explores the punk rock sub-culture, which is interesting in its own right.

Ford Street Publishing has become known for taking on controversial subjects. It probably needs an author as well-known and respected as Hazel Edwards to get away with this one. Ryan Kennedy, her co-author, is himself an FTM, so knows what he is talking about.

Perhaps an afterword with a URL or organization, if any, within Australia might have helped, so that those to whom the book applies don’t have to do all the web searches that Skye/Finn did in the course of the novel.

It’s well-written and answers a lot of questions. There are some likable characters in it and some nice touches of humour. There’s even the whimsical presentation of a couple who are a female-to-male and a male-to-female. Who are, incidentally, managing just fine. Finn doesn’t like the FTM, Rodney, but hey, he doesn’t have to.

It will certainly appeal to those teenagers who are asking themselves questions about their own gender identities.

Whether or not it will have appeal for ordinary teenagers I am not sure. I suspect they will be uncomfortable with it, though this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be out there. Will kids who say, “That is so gay!” about anything negative get enthused about characters who are not actually gay but have gender issues? I won’t know until I have put this in my library and seen how the students react. Watch this space.


Satima Flavell said...

Isn't it amazing what turns up in YA fiction these days? A book like this one might even have been banned from adult sections of the library when I was young:-)

Sue Bursztynski said...

This one is really pretty mild, Satima. I wouldn't dream of banning it or even telling younger kids not to read it - I'm just not sure if they'd be interested, that's all. And I may be wrong there; I will know after I get back to work, process the book and put it on display.

If you think this one is controversial, go take a look at today's January Magazine.

Satima Flavell said...

I'm all in favour of introducing young people to issues around sexuality, especially if it's a sensitive treatment of the necessity of finding a way to come to terms with a sexuality that is "different". I do believe we have a duty to educate, inform and entertain, but not to frighten or to titillate. I loved Margo Lanagan's Tender Moresles, for examples, but I do think it was inappropriate for it to be marketed as YA in America.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I've only read Margo Lanagan's spec fic in recent years, though I did take a look at one of hear early mainstream novels - I prefer the spec fic, which I think is wonderful. I haven't read Tender Morsels, so can't comment. American YA fiction is a strange mix. On the one hand they have turned down Dave Luckett's terrific YA fantasy trilogy as "too violent" (it wasn't anywhere near as violent as some other stuff I have read) and make overseas writers re-write, such as my archaeology non-fic book having the chapter on Inca child mummies changed because they were afraid the mention of mummified ancient child sacrifices might encourage US kids to shoot each other in the schoolyard. (Go figure!) On the other hand, they publish books with characters swearing every other sentence and think this is okay.

But you can safely read F2M and hand it to your teen children/grandchildren. Really. The topic is controversial, but the handling of it is absolutely fine.