Best-selling Bohjalian (the Oprah-blessed Midwives, 1997, etc.) explores the fluid nature of love, gender, and identity in a graphically detailed story about a transsexual man's medical and psychological journey.
In between excerpts from an imaginary National Public Radio broadcast, four characters alternately offer their takes on the events covered by the NPR program. Set in a small Vermont village, the tale deliberately raises many contentious issues, including the role of teachers in a community and the right to privacy, as it depicts the varied and unexpected ways sexual attraction is manifested. Carly, daughter of divorced Allie and Will Banks and soon to be a college freshman, begins by describing her first impressions of Dana Stevens. He teaches film at the local university, and Allie, a sixth-grade teacher auditing the course, is attracted to handsome and empathetic Dana; the two are soon lovers. Will, still carrying a torch for Allie, is initially jealous of the relationship. But , truth to say, Dana has never been comfortable as a man, and he shocks Allie by telling her that he he’s heading out to Colorado at the end of the year to have sex-changing surgery. As a result, Carly is forced to do some deep thinking about gender and sexual orientation. Allie, in the meantime, is even more confused about her feelings, but she supports Dana and after the operation brings her former lover back to her house to recuperate. This nearly costs Allie her job, as parents remove their children from her class in protest. Dana is soon a gorgeous woman, but Allie realizes she preferred her as a man. Female Dana, who thought she was a lesbian, is confused by what she's now feeling. Meanwhile, readers are likely to feel they’re getting a seminar instead of a novel.
Shallow people and a sluggish narrative fail to illuminate a difficult and painful dilemma.