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5.0 1
by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He's a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like


From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He's a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In Freakboy's razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan's relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

“An important story, written with compassion and startling insight.” —Ellen Hopkins, The New York Times–bestselling author of the Crank trilogy

“Debut novelist Clark uses free verse to write a gripping story about a complex topic: the challenges of growing up transgender or genderqueer." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities—cis-, trans-, genderqueer—than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out.” —Kirkus Review, starred review

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“...a gripping story about a complex topic...” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“*This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities--cis-, trans-, genderqueer--than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out.” —Kirkus Review, starred review

“It succeeds in conveying the message that "you are not alone" to transgender youth while helping everyone else get a handle on these often-tortured teens. The author succeeds in her mission to foster "greater understanding and acceptance of gender's vast and lovely variation.” —School Library Journal

“A sincere, profound rendering of sexuality, queerness, and identity.” —The Horn Book

Publishers Weekly
★ 09/16/2013
Debut novelist Clark uses free verse to write a gripping story about a complex topic: the challenges of growing up transgender or genderqueer. Brendan struggles with his occasional desires to be a girl; in her own series of poems, Brendan’s devoted girlfriend, Vanessa, worries about why he is suddenly avoiding her. Meanwhile, transgendered Angel—whom Brendan meets near the teen center where Angel works—reveals her own painful journey; her intense story includes physical abuse and a hospital stay after being beaten up while working as a prostitute. Clark doesn’t stray far from central theme (the back matter includes resources and further reading) as she empathically explores what it can be like to be a transgendered teen (for example, not every transitioning character considers sex-reassignment surgery to be important). The author emphasizes that there are no simple answers for her characters, especially Brendan, who wonders if the transgendered label even fits. At the same time, through Angel, she gives her story a current of hope: “Everyone feels like a freak/ until they make up their mind/ they’re not.” Ages 12–up. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Oct.)
VOYA - Alicia Abdul
Without too much melodrama, Freakboy details Brendan's internal conflicts: is he or is he not? But the question is not easily answered, nor should it be. He is confident that he likes girls, but feels intermittent jealousy along with admiration and love for his girlfriend, Vanessa. So while he is not sexually attracted to boys, his body does not feel like a home either. But is dressing as a female the answer? Is an operation necessary? The questions get harder because of Brendan's lack of empathetic support, from a condescending wrestling coach to his distant parents. His new friend, Angel, has already experienced this depression about her own transgendered transformation and is providing quiet support to Brendan. In Clark's debut novel, she tackles an intimidating subject where the verse format does not enhance the emotional connection between the three characters' perspectives and readers, but it does no damage, either. Clark successfully shares the characters' journeys by not providing the answers, instead allowing an intimate and honest portrayal of their confusion. An audience for this book exists: one waiting for a voice for their own thoughts or helping bridge a gap for others. Likewise, it is recommended to readers who enjoy a good verse novel, especially told from multiple perspectives. Teachers and librarians should add it to booklists on bullying and sexuality. Reviewer: Alicia Abdul
Children's Literature - Allison Fetters
From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to be the typical high school male. He works hard to do well in his classes, he is an athlete on the wrestling team, and he has a lovely girlfriend, Vanessa. On the inside, Brendan’s life is that of constant turmoil as he struggles with desires and emotions he cannot understand. He enjoys being male, but in many ways, he wants to be female. He works diligently to keep these hidden desires a secret until he learns what it means to be transsexual. From that point on, Brendan’s life begins to unravel at a pace he cannot control. Vanessa has defied gender stereotypes in her own way by becoming a member of the boys’ wrestling team. On the mat, she is as tough as any opponent in her weight class. Off the mat, she embraces her femininity and pushes through the derogatory slurs from classmates. Angel, a student and employee at Willow, a center for LGBTQ youth, has embraced the life of a transsexual and soars through life with confidence and courage. Angel becomes an important figure in helping Brendan understand his struggles. Within this profound and heart-wrenching book of prose, the lives of Brendan, Vanessa, and Angel intersect to tell a story that is unforgettable. Reviewer: Allison Fetters; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Brandon, a high school wrestler, must face the fact that despite his best efforts he isn't as hyper-masculine as he feels he needs to be. Acceptance of his gender fluidity will prove to be his greatest challenge. Brandon's stepfather, a symphony conductor, appears to need regular validation of his manliness, and his mother undergoes breast enhancement surgery to appear, presumably, more womanly. Vanessa, Brandon's girlfriend, is also a wrestler; she feels she can only have a true win on the mat once her opponent lets go of the thought that she's a girl. When he's not aggressive enough in the ring, Brandon's coach calls him Brenda. Eventually, he meets Angel, an attractive young woman whose birth certificate reads "male." Angel-empowered, self-loving, and equipped to help others-can support Brandon to be at home in his body and in his craving for feminine expression. This book is a strong addition to LBGT and general collections as a compelling story for reluctant readers and an educational piece on a topic that needs discussion. The use of typography for emphasis is occasionally awkward and self-conscious, but overall this novel-in-verse presents a clear, realistic narrative in various voices. It succeeds in conveying the message that "you are not alone" to transgender youth while helping everyone else get a handle on these often-tortured teens. The author succeeds in her mission to foster "greater understanding and acceptance of gender's vast and lovely variation." —Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, Springfield, MA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-15
A must-buy that showcases three teen voices in free verse as they experience just a few of the myriad ways people experience gender nonconformity. Brendan is a reluctant wrestler and a dutiful boyfriend. His social life is a minefield, his athlete friends casual with their homophobia. One dreadful day, the wrestling team all dresses as cheerleaders, just a joke--for everyone else. Vanessa is Brendan's girlfriend, a wrestler herself. The only girl on the boys' team, Vanessa defends herself against homophobia at school and a family who tell her, "No boy wants a rough girl." Her love for Brendan is a signpost that she's normal. Angel is an indomitable community college student who's seen her share of the crap life throws at queer kids: beaten and rejected by her father, almost killed by a john. She works at the Willows Teen LGBTQ Center, helping other teens, says she's "blessed to like me / the way I am," and is unbent even by the vandalism Brendan commits in a fit of internalized transphobia. In alternating and distinct sections, these three young adults navigate love, family and society. Angel's position at the LGBTQ center provides narrative justification for the occasional infodump. There are no simple answers, readers learn, but there will always be victories and good people. Though the verse doesn't always shine, it's varied, with concrete poems and duets keeping the voices lively. This gutsy, tripartite poem explores a wider variety of identities--cis-, trans-, genderqueer--than a simple transgender storyline, making it stand out. (Fiction. 12-17)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


By Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2013 Kristin Elizabeth Clark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-32473-5



    A pronoun is a ghost
    of who you really are

    whispering its presence,
    taunting your soul.

    In you
    of you
    but not
    all you.

    my own
    He She
    Him Her
    I You.

    Scared that
    for scrambled-pronoun

    might never


    The Name Is Brendan

    Dinner table,
    silverware gleaming.
    Claude the Interloper finishes
    telling a story.

    Mom passes me steak.

    "How was your day?"

    She's chirping, despite
    surgery two days ago.

    I shrug
    the missed bus,
    the half-hour wait for the next one,
    the wrestling practice that blew.

    Don't bother to elaborate.
    Mom hates Coach
    (almost) as much as I do.

    Freshman year
    she wanted me to skip holiday practice
    so what was left of our family
    could go on vacation.

    Coach described the importance of
    "consistent training and conditioning."
    Said he always mentioned "dedication"
    in his college letters of recommendation.

    She wavered and then

    he told her flat out that
    I was the weakest link
    and always would be if I was a
    mama's boy who'd miss training.

    She was ticked, but
    we stayed in town
    with the other manly
    and dedicated jocks.

    He was on my ass today
    for getting caught
    by a head-and-arm drag.
    A crappy thing itself,
    our faces so close.

    Still he yelled.

    And through all the drills
    my head wasn't in it.
    Wrestling Didn't Always Suck
    Miller Prep Academy
    requires a six-term
    commitment to
    at least one sport

    and at first
    it seemed like
    less torture
    than the others.

    No ball to get nailed by,
    or drop. No baton to fumble
    in the last leg of the relay,
    pissing off your teammates.

    Just you and
    your opponent.
    one on one.

    But four years
    of relentless splat on the mat have
    brought out a bunch of little hells
    I'd never even considered

    so that now

    I hate touching other guys.
    I hate my own body.

    And most of all?
    I hate Coach Childers.

    He calls me Brenda.
    I Know What He's Saying
    But I like girls. Always have,
    even in elementary school.
    Sandbox dust in my nose,
    jungle gym–blistered hands.
    Hanging with the guys,
    but glad when a girl'd
    ask me

    Yeah, mostly the same games
    when it came to
    handball and foursquare.
    But comfortable.
    When you got hurt
    girls'd ask

    Guys would ignore you,
    call you names
    when your eyes watered
    at the pop of a soccer ball to your face.

    If you couldn't stop the tears
    they'd yank out more words,
    like "crybaby" (or worse), to

    And I loved the way girls wore their hair.
    Ponytails bouncing, braids smooth.

    Loved the colors they strutted
    across the yard: bright purple, pink.

    Loved other things they played,
    like animal hospital or house.

    Loved the sound of their voices

    a shadow lurks
    near the

    "You like girls too much,

    and not in
    the same
    My Brain Takes Me Freaky Places
    I twitch, gulp milk,
    slam the glass back on the table.

    A salad plate jumps.
    Claude the Interloper frowns.
    Mom winces.
    Sister giggles.

    "Hey, squirt," I say,
    pinning girl-thoughts
    to the mat and
    gaining control
    of my brain.

    "Do you like my princess hat?"

    She tilts her head toward me
    like I might not otherwise
    notice the pink cone,
    its lace ribbon dangling
    close to her mac and cheese.

    I move the plate a little.
    "So you're a princess now."

    "No, Brendy, it's just
    for Halloween!"

    A gap toothed smile.

    I was twelve
    when she was born.
    Everyone said we looked alike.
    Mom's gray-blue eyes,
    Dad's cheekbones.

    But Courtney has it all over me
    in the hair department—
    hers thick, wavy, and long.
    Mine straight, short, and,
    I swear, already falling out.

    Still, she's my favorite person
    besides my girlfriend, Vanessa.
    (Sounds lame, I know.)

    I'm not religious; in fact
    I'm not sure I even believe in God
    (though we used to go
    to church religiously [ha]),
    but from the second Dad
    put her
    into my arms,
    in a little pink blanket,
    innocent face
    and tiny fingernails,
    I saw Divine
    attention to detail.
    So small.

    So perfect.

    It's not a guy thing,
    but I like babysitting.

    Andy called her chick bait.
    We used to push her stroller
    to the park
    and girls would wander over
    to oooh
    to ahhh.

    When Courtney
    took her first steps
    toward me
    Dad called me smitten.
    Mom called me Little Mother.

    That homey scene in eighth grade,
    on my baby sister's first birthday.

    Exactly one month before
    Mom, the harp player, left
    Dad, the biomedical engineer, for
    Claude, the Interloper.

    Conductor of San Diego Philharmonic.
    His orchestra's music
    poison to my father's ear.
    Dad's banished—2,000 miles away.
    (Not that we hung out a ton
    when he lived closer
    but at least it was an option.)

    Now he's president of a biotech firm,
    seen only in summer
    when Mom needs to dump us—
    "Thanks, James! Ta-ta!!!"—
    so she can tour with
    her new (and improved)

    "Big plans tomorrow?"
    she asks.

    "Party at Andy's."

    Claude the Interloper
    raises an eyebrow.

    He doesn't like Andy,
    hates the way he just walks
    into the house without knocking.

    Thinks it's rude that Andy
    checks out the food in our kitchen
    when he's hungry
    and maybe it is—

    but I do the same thing at his house

    and have since seventh grade,
    a year before any of us were aware
    of the Interloper's sorry existence.

    "I wanted to ask if you'd
    take Courtney
    trick-or-treating first."

    Don't mind the trick-or-treating
    but I'm tortured by the reason
    Mom's asking.

    She's recovering from
    "an enhancement procedure"
    and SURPRISE she's sore.

    Still, I avert my eyes
    from her new shape
    and nod yes.

    "What are you going to be?"
    Court asks.

    Now there's a question

    and a depressing memory.

    The Night I Was a Girl

    Last year sucked.
    The whole wrestling team
    went to school as cheerleaders.
    No choice but to go along.

    Shaved legs and everything,
    we all did it—even Rudy and Gil.

    They're team co-captains.
    Jerk-asses, towel snappers,
    the first to bend fingers
    when the ref's on the blind side.

    They told Vanessa,
    "Brenda looks so natural
    she must do this a lot."

    (Angel Hansted)

    Opportunity Knocks
    The bus makes a lurching turn
    and I'm tellin' you,
    I'm thrown against
    the hottest guy ever
    to wear a Halloween-theme tie.

    He has that slicked-back,
    in-my-mouth, don't-touch-me-I'm-cool
    look—but doesn't lean away
    not at first.

    I can tell he's checking me out
    but isn't gonna be obvious.
    What's the point in being so shy, I
    wanna ask him. Get bold.

    "Opportunity curves"
    is what I say instead. He grins at me
    for a second—then eyebrows raise.
    He gets up and changes seats.

    The smile
    (it wasn't so
    hot after all)
    leaves when he clocks me.

    I mostly pass—but
    I've been made enough times to
    know the exact second it happens.
    And I just wanna say to Mr. Corn-hole
    mouth, "Your loss."

    My stop's next, anyway.
    Toss my head, get off
    at Evergreen Community College.
    Got my GED here.

    I tell you now
    classes are a habit.

    Finish my degree
    (social work major),
    then it's off to difference-making
    full-time employment
    for Angel.

    Maybe I can change up some things.
    Someone's gotta do it.
    Someone like me, I mean.
    Someone who knows simple basics.

    You wanna assign roommates
    in group homes based on birth sex assignment?

    Go ahead, idiot.
    Make it easy for thugs to

    S m e a r
    the Queer.
    Three Years Ago
    My first day at Evergreen
    I was ready for flight OR fight.
    Out of the baking August parking lot
    and into Admissions. I tell you—
    my foster mom hadn't of been there
    I mighta shot back through the door
    like some kind of Olympic runner.

    Stood at the end of the line,
    freezing in my fuchsia tank top,
    turquoise skirt, strappy gold sandals.

    Girl, that building was icy but
    the papers I held were floppy,
    my hands sweatin' so bad.

    Finally my turn. Big crabby-looking guy
    with beady eyes called, "Next."
    I went up to his window,
    handed him my application.
    He looked it over, looked at me,
    and he

    People get uptight
    when your ID
    calls out a gender
    different than what you present.

    My foster mom touched my elbow
    soft — lettin' me know she was there.

    Still, my back was up when
    Beady Eyes stepped away
    to get a supervisor, muttering,

    "Right name, wrong gender."

    And I'd heard it before—
    but God was with me that day.

    Beady Eyes's supervisor
    came to the window.

    "You're Angel?" Adjusted her
    glasses. Looked over them.

    At me.

    I nodded,
    stretched my neck,
    made sure my
    collarbone scars

    Not afraid of this.
    Ready to lay me down some attitude.

    "We're admitting you today
    but you might want
    to get new state identification.

    "You need a note
    from your doctor and
    signed by a witness,
    the identification you have now,
    and a special form, DL 328.

    "Then your information
    will match you better."

    That sweet little old lady
    winked at me
    and I almost fell over.

    Now every time
    I pull out my ID
    F for Female
    feels like T for Triumph.


Excerpted from Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark. Copyright © 2013 Kristin Elizabeth Clark. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Kristin Elizabeth Clark always knew she wanted to be a writer. She began dabbling in haiku in the third grade – this "experimentation" turned out to be a gateway to the harder stuff: book-length verse. She lives and writes in Northern California where she has worked as a child advocate within the juvenile justice system, and as a children's theatre producer. She is a proud volunteer at Project Outlet in Mountain View, CA. Freakboy is her young adult debut.

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Freakboy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Amabe421 More than 1 year ago
Actual rating 4.5 stars This book took me totally by surprise. I have listened to verse novels before, but have never actually read one myself. I am not opposed to poetry, I just don't typically read it. This book though written in poems never felt that way. It flowed really well, and I was able to get caught up in the story rather quickly. The other bonus of this being a verse novel was that even though it's quite a large book, it a very fast read. Also, the topic is not one that I have read before. I have read plenty of LGBT books, but never one that was focused on gender confusion as this one was. I thought it was done amazingly well, and I highly recommend this book to everyone! Brendan is the main character even though it is told in three different POV's. He is the central point of this book. I really enjoyed getting to know Brendan while he was trying to get to know himself. I felt for him and wanted for him to discover what he was looking for and just be happy. He is on the wrestling team and has a wonderful girlfriend who is totally in love with him. He isn't into guys, but he imagines himself as a female. He wonders what it would be like. He is jealous of the soft skin, pretty hair, and general comfortableness girls seem to have with each other. He feels really lost and confused and thinks that he is a freak. He isn't sure what to do, or who to talk to. Angel comes into his life at just the right time. She helps him discover himself and know that nothing is wrong with him. Vanessa is his longtime girlfriend. She is a sweet girl and I really did feel bad for her when Brendan pushed her away and shut her out. She is used to his ever changing moods, and has always been the person who Brendan would talk to. She is desperate to find out what he is hiding and why he is ignoring her and acting so distant. Her POV was interesting since she didn't really know what was going on. She was hurt, lonely, and felt like her relationship and first love were slipping away. What I liked the best about her is that she is understanding and very strong even while she is hurting. Angel is a Transgender and I loved her POV. She is a very tough person who has been through a lot, and still deals with a lot of stuff. She loves helping people and her heart is in a great place. She has learned a lot through her own experiences and wants to help others who are confused with how they see themselves. More than anything, she wants to find happiness for herself and for others. Being abandoned over and over again throughout her life due to who she is, she has become hardened, but is still a very lively and bright person. This book was so eye opening. Not that I didn't know about Transgender people, or how hard things must be for them. It was just great to read a book specifically about it and the confusion that the characters go through. Not only that, but how others around them act whether in a positive or negative way. I thought that the three different POV's was fantastic and it made the story well rounded. It packed an emotional punch as well. Being a book written in verse, it didn't read that way at all. I was able to follow the story just as with any other book. This is definitely an author I will be looking forward to reading again. *An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any compensation.