Annabel was one of the 5 Canada Reads finalists last year. It is written by a Canadian author and much of the story takes place in Labrador. Although it had a slow start, it is a very interesting read and a very unique topic. The story centres around a baby who is born with both male and female genitals. There seemed to be very little medical assessment of the infant and the decision was made by the father for the baby to be raised as a boy with his hermaphrodite features remaining a secret to the boy and the community.
The decisions at the time of birth impact the little family since no one deals with the situation openly. The boy (Wayne) struggles, always feeling that he is someone else. He does not enjoy playing with the other boys and has many feminine traits. Until grade 7, he did not even know the circumstances of his birth or the reason for the appointments and pills that he was taking. The father and son have difficulty connecting, the father loves his son but is very connected with nature and does not express his own feelings to his family. He spends much time in the wilderness tending his traplines and is concerned with his son’s outward appearances as he tries to help him grown into manhood. The mother remains at home, caring for Wayne but always feels that she has lost a daughter as she tries to be the bridge between father and son.
As Wayne grows, he feels that there is a part of him that is Annabel (a secret nickname from a family friend), a part of him that is hidden inside. He is quite isolated and has only a family friend, who was present at his birth, to confide in when she is not travelling. Without spoiling the ending, the father spends much time reflecting and, once Wayne is an adult, his dad is able to be there for his son with love and support in a way that he never had been during his childhood.
This was a unique story but, being the nurse that I am, I question the accuracy and medical details of the story. I found it hard to believe that decisions about the sex of a child were made without intense medical assessment and determination of which internal organs were most prevalent. I enjoyed the description of life on the Canadian East coast. It was interesting to consider the less connected life that the family lived. They lived simply; growing, killing and preserving their own food despite the complex challenges of Wayne’s hermaphroditism. This book is listed on the CBC’s 100 Books that Make You Proud to be a Canadian.