What’s great about Lisa Yee’s book, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally), is not that includes a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD), an athletic football playing sister, or a possibly bi-racial family (as hinted at by the name “Ellis-Chan”).
Though it is wonderful to read about a nuclear family that is more representative of what a family looks like today, what’s really great about Lisa Yee’s book is that it is driven by a familiar trial of puberty: A boy struggling to understand why his best friend is suddenly changed and now so “girlish.”
At the end of the first chapter when Holly (our protagonist’s best friend) leaves Bobby (our protagonist) to spend time with her new “girl” friend, Jillian Zarr, I could tell a light went on in the head of my eldest. It was a signal of relief – he wasn’t the only one. Though he is much younger than Bobby, he has already gone through a similar situation with his best friend (a girl).
I remember how quiet he was that night. He had spent the day with his best friend. Though not a particularly chatty child, I felt something was just “off” about his behavior but couldn’t put my finger on it. In the morning he asked me, “Daddy, boys can play Barbie Dream House too right and still be boys?” I said, “Of Course. There’s really no such thing as boy games and girl games.” Then I asked Why? It seems his best friend had another friend over who insisted my son was a girl because he liked playing “Barbie Dream House” with them. His best friend’s friend chided him, calling him a girl which upset him (which caused his silence).
I don’t know whether it made me more sad or angry that my son’s feelings were purposely hurt. To be honest, my first thought was to call his best friend’s friend over, throw her over my knee, and apply some good old fashioned Chinese style parenting on her (though I wouldn’t want to perpetuate any stereotypes — I would have even muttered Toisanese curses under my breath like my parents did and everything!)
The thought quickly vanished, however (not that it ever was a serious thought). The important thing was not punishing his best friend’s friend for ignorance, but to insure my eldest knew it was OK to be who he was comfortable being.
It’s funny (in a kind of sad way) because despite the technological advances bridging the distances and opening doors for access to more firsthand information, an Afterschool Special from 1974 is still relevant. Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be You and Me was the show all the teachers talked about at my elementary school. At the time it was groundbreaking. It’s sad that over 30 years later, it hasn’t become irrelevant and outdated.
Then again, perhaps it is a rite of passage for all little boys and girls. As a result of the improved technology, little boys and little girls are bombarded with multiple potentially contradicting images of gender. In addition to that they may see or experience themselves differences in treatment and acceptance by the adults around them (including their parents). Perhaps it is an early test of ego to see how steadfast the child clings to his or her adopted gender role.
In Bobby and Holly’s case, they resolve their differences. The ending seems to say the value of their friendship exceeded the pressures to select a gender camp. Though the incident occurred over two years ago, it was still serious enough to ignite a glimmer in my eldest’s eyes when I read those last few sentences in the first chapter. It still unnerved him though he seems comfortable with who he is now.
There is a nice interview with the author, Lisa Yee, on the Rice Daddies website.