The story of Annabel is told through the heart and mind of a boy named Wayne. A child is born to a young couple in Labrador, who is neither distinctly girl nor boy, but both. Born at home, only the parents and midwife know about the baby and all three are stymied. Should the child be altered so that he or she may become completely one or the other, or would it be possible to let the child simply grow up as is, having qualities of both? The latter is what Jacinta, the mother, would prefer, and so does Thomasina, the midwife. They are loth to change this beautiful little person and risk losing an important element of its being. But Treadway, the father, decides the child should be a boy. They name him Wayne.
Early in life, Wayne realizes that he is not quite the same as everyone else but he’s not sure how different he is. He feels haunted by a presence, almost as though someone is hiding inside him, wanting to break free. He longs to express the grace and beauty deep within himself but also knows that certain kinds of behaviour are acceptable and others are not. The desire to wear a girl’s bathing suit, like that worn by the soloist of the Russian synchronized swim team, must be kept secret. His outward demeanor must conform to what is expected and so, doing chores with Treadway, he knows “… that a grim, matter-of-fact attitude was required of him by his father, and he learned how to exhibit such an attitude … but it was not his authentic self.” Wayne’s parents, particularly Treadway, are terrified of that authentic self showing through. How would Wayne be seen by others, and how would they treat him? Ironically, it is their own behaviour that causes him pain and isolation. Treadway alienates Wayne’s best friend and both parents end up withdrawing from his life in their own way, leaving Wayne almost completely alone. Wayne must face the quandary of his existence by himself.
Wayne’s haunting tale unfolds. We follow him through his journey to adulthood, experimenting, making mistakes, reaching out. We feel his bewilderment over his lonely predicament and his misery when he is treated abominably. We share his wonder for the beauty he sees in the world around him and the joy of love and friendship. Through poetic language and vivid imagery, his complicated, unusual story is told tenderly and lovingly. We feel what Wayne feels, and it seems real and true. It is a powerful story of hope that we can eventually bridge the gap between one another so that we can truly be ourselves.