Wayne was born with an ovary, a testicle, a penis, and a uterus. He is a true hermaphrodite, and his state at birth shocks everyone. Because of the length of his penis, he qualifies as being able to be raised as a boy, which is what his father, Treadway, wants. His mother, Jacinta, wants Wayne to grow up intact, but Treadway insists on his way, so Wayne's vagina is sewed up, his penis is lengthened, he is given pills to take, and is labeled as a boy.
But Wayne is not gender typical. He likes to build things and fish, but he also likes to sing and dance, and isn't put off by the idea of wearing makeup or girl clothes. His father doesn't approve and pushes him to be masculine, as though overcompensating for his son's perceived shortcomings. Some reviewers said he was made out to be a villain, but considering that this takes place in rural Canada with trappers and men who participate in the machismo culture that comes with it, I found his father to be surprisingly liberal. Except for one moment of cruelty, which he regretted immediately (and did not involve abuse), Treadway tried really hard to be understanding -- even though it was so clearly obvious that he didn't understand, and never would be able to understand, because Wayne's unique situation was so out of his universe. Which is why, I think, he started trying to run away from his problems: to escape.
There are a lot of triggers in this book. There is a very unpleasant scene during Wayne's entrance to puberty where his abdomen bloats, and we learn that his abdomen is filled with blood that couldn't escape because his vagina was sewed up. Apparently, he got himself pregnant, because he has both parts and they are in such close proximity to one another, and when the doctors removed the blood, they found a fetus lodged in his Fallopian tubes (ew). I kind of wish this scene hadn't been included because not only is it gross, it also has the feel of an urban legend ... and not in a good way.
Another thing that bothered me about ANNABEL is its reliance on stereotypes. For example, in elementary school, Wayne runs into a gay pedophile who likes pretty boys and comes onto him. Wayne is also raped by a group of boys who think he's too pretty, and who have heard about his various sex change operations and want to test the merchandise. These scenes were cringeworthy and even though I understand why the author included them -- because intersex and trans men and women receive far more discrimination than LGB members, and are more likely to be sexually abused (at least according to this thing I read that I can't remember) -- it was still very upsetting and detracted, rather than added, to the storyline for me.
Overall, I liked ANNABEL. I liked the idea of Wayne's shadow self. It reminded me of this nonfiction book I read, which was called THE BOY WHO WAS RAISED AS A GIRL. It features a boy with the opposite problem: a botched circumcision left him with a nub of a penis, and the doctors figured, "Oh, hey, obviously the penis makes the man (which happened in ANNABEL), so let's just raise him as a girl. He'll be fine." But the boy -- he was a boy -- wasn't fine. He didn't like dresses, and he wanted to play with boy toys and do sports. During puberty, he was attracted to girls, not boys, and the conflict between what he felt inside and what his parents and society and his doctors were telling him about his outsides, really fucked him up. He actually ended up committing suicide.
It just goes to show that we can't help how we're born. Whether we're male, female, or somewhere in between, the only one who ought to decide what label, if any, we're provided with is us. Because who knows us better than we know ourselves? I also think that in vague cases, like in this book and the one in TBWWRAAG, parents and doctors ought to wait until puberty, to see what happens when the natural hormones kick in and also to see what the child wants when they are in a position to decide for themselves.
3.5 out of 5 stars.