By Kathleen Winter
(Grove Press, Black Cat, Paperback, 9780802170828, January 2011, 480pp.)
The Short of It:
Annabel is incredibly moving. It will touch you, and steal your heart.
The Rest of It:
The story is simple. In a small seaside town, a baby is born a hermaphrodite. Jacinta and Treadway must decide how to raise the child. Should they raise a boy, or a girl? As Jacinta holds her baby, she knows deep down, that the baby is a girl; a beautiful daughter whom she feels a deep connection to. But Treadway has always wanted a son, and so the child is named Wayne and raised as a boy. Although this goes against everything Jacinta believes the world to be, she does not voice her feelings and goes along with it.
Jacinta’s close friend, Thomasina, also the women who helped bring Wayne into the world, knows that the child will have a complicated life down the line. These decisions are never easy ones to make, and although Wayne’s parents love him dearly, Thomasina also looks out for him, and supports him in ways his own parents can’t. Wayne’s parents do not clue him in to what’s going on with his body. It’s after it becomes medically necessary, that he finds out and it’s not even his parents who explain it to him. It’s their dear friend, Thomasina.
Wayne’s struggle to find himself is so painful at times, that I just wanted to reach into the book and give him a hug. Each character is so vividly drawn and deeply complex and wonderful in their own way. The parents are good parents. Treadway is distant as a father, but he loves his son and he has a deep sense of duty to his family. The decisions he makes, are (in his mind) for the good of the family. I cried for Jacinta. She knew from the moment she held that baby that Wayne should have been Annabel, named after Thomasina’s daughter who died with her father in a hunting accident.
What I truly appreciate, is that Winter does not shy away from the tough topics. Wayne’s upbringing affects the family as a whole, but each member of that family quietly falls apart before they become whole again. Nature vs. Nurture is a huge theme here and you see the devastating effects of both. But what makes this a very hopeful story, are the good friends Wayne meets along the way and the fact that his parents love him. The love they provide is what holds him up.
I loved this book. I adored it. My moods continued to shift as I read it and it wasn’t until the end that I began to breathe easy again. Annabel is everything that a good book should be and it’s a book that everyone should read and discuss.
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