A young boy grapples with his self-image and budding homosexuality.
In his debut novella, the Toronto-based Shraya explores growing up gay and religious through the character of a nameless Indo-Canadian boy who from childhood on is somewhat female-identified. The protagonist is born with “a full head of jet-black hair,” coming to sport “one long, thin ponytail” as he waits until age 2 for his first haircut, receiving compliments all the while for being a “cute baby girl.” Thus begins the boy’s fluid—at times troubling—experience with gender, which Shraya cleverly encapsulates in the boy’s experience of developing body hair alongside others in his life. His younger brother buzzes some of his off; his father demonstrates how to shave his mustache; Vicky Macker, the cool girl, wants to dye his hair red, like hers; and his mother, with whom he most closely identifies, zealously plucks her eyebrows. Throughout this brief bildungsroman, the boy negotiates his way through Canadian and Indian cultures, learning differing roles played by the sexes and often feeling comforted and occasionally frightened by the strength of his Hindu faith. Neufeld’s mixed-media illustrations pair well with the scenes they depict, capturing the essence of being young with their multilayered texture and comic book–like immediacy.
Running the emotional spectrum from shame to pleasure and acceptance, Shraya offers a refreshing window into the intimate struggles of youth. (Fiction. 12 & up)