A big, brave, messy modern family struggles with the challenges of raising a transgender child.
“This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make it happen. If…you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake.” Claude Walsh-Adams is all of 3 years old when he announces what he wants to be when he grows up—a girl. It’s a particularly tricky case of “be careful what you wish for” for his doctor mom and novelist dad, already the parents of four boys when they roll the reproductive dice one last time. At home, barrettes and dresses are fine, but once he starts kindergarten as a boy, Claude becomes so miserable that, with the advice of a “multi-degree-social-working-therapist-magician,” his parents decide to let him become Poppy. “So, gender dysphoria,” says the bizarrely bouncy therapist. “Congratulations to you both! Mazel tov! How exciting!” The excitement takes a nasty turn when horrifying homophobic incidents convince Rosie that the family must leave Madison, Wisconsin, for the reputedly more enlightened Seattle, Washington. But rather than putting Seattle’s tolerance to the test, they keep Poppy’s identity a secret from even her closest friends, a decision that blows up in their faces when she hits puberty. Though well-plotted, well-researched, and unflaggingly interesting, the novel is cloying at times, with arch formulations, preachy pronouncements, and a running metafictional fairy tale. It’s worth putting up with the occasional too-much-ism for all the rest of what bright, brave author Frankel (Goodbye for Now, 2012) has to offer as the mother of a transgender second-grader in real life.
As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year.