Review: Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

In 1968, a baby was born to Jacinta and Treadway Blake, in a small Labrador trapping village.  The birth was attended by a few village women, all close friends.  One woman, Thomasina, noticed something unusual right away:  the baby had both male and female genitalia.  She was the only one outside the family who knew, and supported Jacinta as she struggled to accept what this would mean to them, and to the baby. Treadway decided the baby would be raised as a boy, and while Jacinta felt otherwise, she would not go against her husband.  From that moment on the baby was known as Wayne, although Thomasina often called him “Annabel” in private.

Jacinta wished she could raise Wayne as both son and daughter, and only vaguely understood the challenges this could pose for Wayne as he grew up.  Treadway desperately wanted a traditional, masculine son, and despaired at Wayne’s more feminine interests.  As a boy, Wayne was ignorant of the medical details, and knew only that he has to take special vitamins.  He felt vaguely different from the other boys he knew, and his closest friend was a girl.  While Wayne’s medical treatment was costly, the more devastating impact was emotional.  Jacinta and Treadway are unable to share their feelings with each other, and gradually this takes a toll.  Wayne found it increasingly difficult to relate to either of them, and life only became more difficult as he matured and struggled to find his true self.

Kathleen Winter drew me into this story gradually, and skillfully.  It wasn’t a page-turner, but I was surprised to find myself emotionally caught up in this book.  I despaired at Jacinta and Treadway’s broken relationship, and each response to the family tension.  My heart wrenched over the conflict between Treadway and Wayne, especially when Treadway’s fears led him to destroy something very dear to Wayne.  I also felt very sad for Wayne, who had a secret no one could understand, and coped with so much emotional trauma.  As he approached adulthood, Wayne began to understand and accept himself, and I closed the book knowing his life would never be easy, but there were glimmers of hope for his future.

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13 thoughts on “Review: Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

  1. I’m glad you liked it. It was subtle for a book that could be very dramatic. The setting really played a big part too. The isolation in Labeador paralleled Wayne’s situation.
    Great review Laura!

  2. I haven’t read this book yet but when I read the summary I was intrigued. Since I have read a few reviews, all positive, and they have furthe piqued my interest in this book. I like that it’s sad but hopeful and inspiring. Poor Wayne, what a difficult situation. I feel for Treadway and Jacinta, too but it sounds like Treadway doesn’t want Wayne to be anything but 100% male.

  3. Ti introduced this book last week to me last week… it sounded so intriguing. I enjoyed reading your review and have added Annabel to my wish lit.

  4. I’m so glad you found this one worthwhile. One of the aspects of it that really stood out for me was the way in which I felt I gained an understanding of Treadway through his relationship to the land and the natural world; he is a character that I think I’d’ve had a very hard time connecting to if I had “met” him off the page, but on the page, with Kathleen Winter as mediary, I really felt that I knew him. (And, agreed, that loss of Wayne’s was very sad. Heartbreaking, really, because it had come to represent so much to him beyond the actual structure itself. ::sniff::)

  5. Pingback: Review: Annabel | Giraffe Days

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