Book Review: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Annabel by Kathleen WinterThere aren’t many books (that I know) about hermaphrodites, people who have both male and female bodily characteristics. I read, of course, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, some years ago, but other than that? I don’t think I’ve read any.

Besides being an interesting topic, I had seen lots of great reviews of Annabel. A good reason to try for myself.

Annabel: What it is about

From the publisher: “In 1968, into the devastating, spare atmosphere of Labrador,Canada, a child is born: a baby who appears to be neither fully boy nor fully girl, but both at once. Only three people are privy to the secret—the baby’s parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and their trusted neighbor and midwife, Thomasina. Though Treadway makes the difficult decision to raise the child as a boy named Wayne, the women continue to quietly nurture the boy’s female side. And asWayne grows into adulthood within the hypermasculine hunting society of his father, his shadow-self, a girl he thinks of as “Annabel,” is never entirely extinguished.

When Wayne finally escapes the confines of his hometown and settles in St. John’s, the anonymity of the city grants him the freedom to confront his dual identity. His ultimate choice will once again call into question the integrity and allegiance of those he loves most.”

Annabel: What I thought

The setting of this book is small-town Canada, the great outdoors of Labrador. This is a rugged place, where, at least 1968, many food- and other items just cannot be bought. For instance, cows don’t thrive there, so milk is a luxury. Wayne’s father is a tracker, who spends most of his time in the woods, looking for animals to bring back home. His mother is a quiet woman, who has accepted the superiority of her husband without much question.

When Wayne is born, both male and female, his father decides he’s a boy. But his female characteristics won’t hide forever, and as a teenager, Wayne (who was not told about his condition) finds out what’s going on.

I very much liked the setting but the story about Wayne was a little weak, in the sense that his identity didn’t play a role for a large part of the book. Or at least, not a big role. There was never any doubt about Wayne’s condition but he just lived his life as a boy and man, and dealt with his female struggles as they came about. Only much later in the book his female side really starts to play up. I would have liked to look deeper into Wayne’s mind and find out what he thought of his situation.

Other than that, it was a good story with very interesting characters, such as Wayne’s father, Wayne’s (female) friend, his teacher. I enjoyed reading the book but had hoped to get a lot more insight into Wayne’s gender identity.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 368 (my Dutch edition)

First published: 2011

I got this book: from the library

Genre: contemporary fiction


Have you read this book?

What did you think?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

16 Responses to Book Review: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

  1. Mel says:

    I read a kindle sample of this and I actually intend on buying this book to read!

  2. Wow this sounds powerful. I watched a movie a couple years back – cant think what it was not but it was true story on a hermaphrodite. Raised as a girl as decided by the parents but had the feelings of a boy and dressed and acted as a boy and used a boy name. It was a tragic story, he was eventually killed by his peers who thought he was a nut job.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Sheila, I found the nature and the people in this book more interesting than the story about Wayne-as-a-hermaphrodite – or almost. I think I vaguely remember the story you describe. It’s an absolute tragedy.

  3. I love books about Newfoundland and so the fact that the nature and the people play such a large part is a definite plus for me. I wasn’t going to tackle this book, but now I think I will!

  4. I liked this book more than you did, but I see where you’re coming from. It would have been fascinating to delve more deeply into Wayne’s mind. I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but in a sense, the setting — rather than Wayne — was the main character in the story.

  5. JoV says:

    Now that you said it, I agree there wasn’t depth into how Wayne thinks but I was so caught up with story that I love this so much. I like the whole tranquil, no man caribou land. 🙂

  6. susanbright says:

    I too read Middlesex many moons ago. I haven’t heard of this one but will check it out!

  7. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this review. I’ve heard this book mentioned a few times on other blogs as well. It sounds interesting, but I am surprised that Wayne isn’t explored more deeply–based on the synopsis, you’d think that would be the author’s primary objective!

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