Disclaimers first… due to the adult content of this book, I would recommend it for readers 18 and older. The rape casts a rather disturbing presence over the entire story and the assumptions made by Max’s parents surrounding the rape were very troubling as was the handling of the situation by Max’s doctor. Mind you, these things can and do happen; I just think it is a bit much for young minds to process in a healthy context.
That aside, I thought the author did a very realistic representation of the life of an intersex teen who has obvious anatomical differences from the binary male and female that society at large considers normal— Max’s constant fear of being discovered which kept him from normal teen experiences, his guilt for perceiving himself as an ever-present threat to his family’s standing in the community, the constant need to hide who he truly is, and the frustration toward people who cannot just let him be who he is. The book brings to light the senseless discrimination against people who do not fall at the binary extremes. Although we have known for quite some time that human sexual development falls across a spectrum, people still refuse to believe that this is a natural occurrence… there is no fault, there is no blame, it simply happens, and by virtue of the fact that it happens, makes it natural… in accordance with nature.
I believe that Karen and Steve were the perfect juxtaposition for comparing parental differences in how intersex children should be raised. Karen constantly worrying about Max’s “condition” and the impact it has on his life as well as hers. She carries the guilt of somehow being responsible for Max being intersex and has a rather constant worry that it somehow reflects on her as a person. Steve, on the other hand, taking a wait-and-see approach, wanting to place the major life decisions in Max’s hands… wanting Max to make his own choices as he matures and is prepared to make those decisions.
It also shines a light on the rather ruthless medical profession and their tendency to play God in the lives of intersex children… more often presuming that they know best and placing pressures on parents to “choose” a sex for the child early in life and a tendency to treat these children as objects, an aberration that needs to be fixed, rather than the very real human people that they are… people with thoughts, emotions, opinions, and an independent sense of self.
It was a brilliantly written, poignant story, highlighting the shortcomings of human tolerance and acceptance. A story that needed to be told.