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Calliope Stephanides is born to a family of Greek immigrants living in Detroit. She tells the story of how she came to be by starting with her grandparents in their isolated village. As the Turks and Greeks were fighting, they managed to flee to America and start a new life there. Calliope then moves on to her parents’ courtship and then her own life, up into her teen years.
What makes Calliope’s story so different though, is that she’s a hermaphrodite.
Thanks to a less-than-thorough family doctor and parents with a bit of a “hands off” policy, no one realizes that Calliope is different for years and years. For her part, she’s pretty happy as a girl until she hits her teens. Then her hormones start raging and her life changes forever.
I wish I had reviewed this immediately after I read it. I really liked it, but I’ve forgotten a lot of details. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m mostly going to refer to Calliope as she throughout my review because she’s living as a girl for the vast majority of the book. This is not a spoiler; the first sentence spells this out.
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michgan, in August of 1974.”
I liked Calliope and her eccentric family. She’s a great narrator, being almost painfully honest. She’s never very judgmental of the choices her parents and grandparents made along the way. She just tells her story the best way that she knows how.
I’m sure other people rattle on about gender identity, race relations, the callousness of medicine and serious stuff like that. All of that is definitely present but it doesn’t smack you in the face. I just liked reading about this crazy family and what they were getting up to. As I read, knowing that something had to be coming to make Calliope, at the very least, realize that something wasn’t right, I got more and more worried for her. I hoped it wasn’t going to be too traumatic because I liked her and I wanted life to go a little easy on her.
It would have been easy for the book to get confusing with Calliope and Cal and he and she, but it all unfolds so gradually that it’s effortless to follow.
My one complaint is that I thought the book ended just when I really wanted to know more. Calliope’s differences have been identified, she’s made some big choices and adjustments, and I want to know how she goes from being a terrified teenage girl to a 40ish urbane man. There’s a whole big chunk of time missing there! I want to know that people were treating Calliope, now Cal, right! There are little hints here and there as Cal talks about his life in the present, and I don’t think that he’s terribly happy, but at least he’s hopeful.
This isn’t the best review I’ve ever written, but this is a very good book that I recommend.
Read an excerpt.
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