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Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

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A newspaper book reviewer I know sent me a copy of this book. The thing is frustrating. The story treats an all-american family with a secret -- one of their sons in an intersex child raised by them as a boy. Although it's easy to cast the book as a polemic about the travails of children like Max, I think it's more about the damage that secrecy in families does. The narrative frame is Rashomon-like, with the same events narrated from the points of view of a number of the main characters (I don't see this as a flaw, Pec).

I'm happy to see a serious attempt at fiction about intersex children (whose genetic anomalies produce a wide variety of expression). The story is warm if a bit melodramatic.

The downsides are that although the protagonist, Max, is finely drawn, the other characters are nearly one-dimensional, especially the mother. I get the feeling that the author set out to create a novel acceptable to mainstream readers, perhaps not a bad approach since little fiction is available on the subject (the notable exception is Annabel by Kathleen Winter, a better book, I think). This one seems almost aimed at the young adult market. The author is from the UK but does a good job with the American high school environment.

The author's been on an American book tour, and recently read at Powell's on Hawthorne in Portland and at The Tattered Cover in Denver. All in all, I'm glad I read it, and if you're interested in the difficulties of intersex children, it's worth a read.

Warning: There is a fairly graphic sexual assault scene early on.

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The book is getting pretty good reviews on Amazon:


Though I'd like to know how an intersex kid could wind up as the captain of a soccer team. You'd think they would've caught on in the locker room (unless the kid is getting major medical treatment with testosterone injections, surgery, and other techniques). But it's an interesting idea.

BTW, note that the family is in England, not America, so the lead character is not exactly an All-American Boy; in fact, the character's father is about to be elected to Parliament. Still, from the excerpt I read on Amazon, the story is very compelling, though again, I question the decision to mainstream the kid without a lot of medical work and counseling beforehand, unless there's a logical reason why they can't do it until he reaches adulthood.

Finally: one of the Amazon reviews brings up one of the central problems with multiple POVs...

My main reservation about the book though is not the content but the style. There's little to distinguish between the different narrative voices and I frequently found myself having to back track to work out which "I" was being referred to. I cannot help feel that there should be more stylistic difference between the writing of a poetic 16 year old loner school girl, a GP and a trained lawyer.

That's a big problem. I think 3rd person omniscient would have benefitted the story better and still allowed the writer to get inside each character's head. But I don't dispute it's the author's creative choice, and this technique can work in expert hands.

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Pec is quite right about the book's setting -- American's think everything's about their country or maybe that error was due to my addlepated state. In any event, I hope people will read Kathleen winter's book, Annabel, to which I compared this one as I was reading it (apparently not all that carefully).

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I read a little further and was kind of appalled at a later development in the story, which is extremely melodramatic, almost jaw-dropping. I won't detail what happens, except that if they had given the teen the procedure I outlined early on and just medically modified him to be male, what happens in the story could not have happened. [i won't spill the beans, though it is being hotly debated in the readers' comments in the Amazon link posted above.] I think the idea of the story is very interesting, but this one huge issue drastically detracts from the plot.

As I was just telling my partner: if they can inject Chastity Bono with testosterone and turn her into a guy (complete with beard and a deeper voice), they could do it to the title character of this story. That's unless there's a medical issue I'm not aware of, stemming from the character's combined XX and XY chromosomes. I feel like this is a tough contrivance to get past, but I gotta say, I'm sorely tempted to buy the book and read it.

Having been to seven or eight countries around the world, and lived and worked in Rome for four months, I'm painfully aware that America is not only not the greatest country in the world, it's not the richest, the smartest, nor the wealthiest. We've fallen way down in the last decade. I think the story would have worked with the kid being in America, but I'm guessing part of the problem is that the father is trying to get elected as a member of Parliament, so my assumption is the father is extremely embarrassed that the press could find out that his "son" is actually an intersex person.

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