Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Rating : 4.0/5
Number of Pages : 529
Reason for Reading : Reading Challenge with Nymeth, Chunkster Challenge

The story of Calliope Stephanides and her history starting with the time of her grandparents back in their homeland Greece. Calliope has inherited a genetic defect, a mutation passed down the generations and finally expressing itself in her. She has 5-Alpha-Reductase which means she was born looking like a female, but when she reached puberty she didn't develop breasts or start her period. Instead she developed as a boy. Her voice lowered, she has an adams apple, she grew facial hair and when her genes are studied it becomes clear that genetically speaking she is male.

The first sentence of the novel really sums this up:

"I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room mear Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

She (later He) has always been attracted to girls and had an awkwardness that his condition seems to explain. The problem comes in distinguishing what gender really is. Is it your genes or is it aproduct of nature and the way a child is raised. Cal was raised a girl until her genetic condition is discovered, but as she is found to be male should she have corrective surgery to become more female or embrace his genetics and live the rest of his life a man. Such interesting questions and it is based on a real scientific condition. In the womb in early development, a child possesses the basic equipment to be male or female and it depends which hormones are switched on or off as to which development path they go down. The clitoris and penis are from the same route and sometimes genetic or homonal problems cause ambiguities.

To say the whole book is a question of gender would be misleading however. Much time is spent with Cal's parents and grandparents leading up to how Cal was conceived. It involves war, incest, saucy use of a clarinet, a character faking their own death, freak shows and much more. You are pulled into the story and the lives of the characters from the beginning and it makes a truely fascinating tale.

9 comments:

Andi said...

This is one of those books I've wanted to read for a long time, but for whatever reason I haven't picked it up. Heaven only knows why I haven't. Thanks for a great review! I'm even more excited to read it than I was before.

Marg said...

I listened to this on audiobook years ago and the narrator was just excellent and really made this book for me! I loved the storyline as well - all around a great experience!

Nymeth said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I loved all the questions it raised about gender, but like you said it's about so much more than that.

Debi said...

I've been wanting to read this because I know how much Nymeth loves it, and she always finds the most perfect books. But at the same time, I've been a bit intimidated by it. Your review was wonderful, and I think you may have given me the push I needed!

Bobbi said...

I've read this one - good book. Nice review!

Melody said...

I've not read this one yet, though I've heard great reviews about it. There were times that I found this at the bookstores but just couldn't understand why I didn't pick it up. Maybe this time round, I will...

jehara said...

i really liked the virgin suicides. i have been curious about this one and even checked it out but didn't read it. i really liked your review and now my curiosity is piqued even further.

Trish said...

I'm glad you liked this one! I read it last summer and found it really fascinating as well (even though I felt it was a bit longish). I haven't read The Virgin Suicides but I'd really like to one day.

Literary Feline said...

Great review! I really enjoyed this book when I read it. I admit that when I saw that you listed it as a chunkster, I had to do a double take. I had forgotten how long it was. I flew through it when I read it.

I especially like the historical tidbits the author added in during Cal's childhood. I could see it all so clearly.