Bonnier Carlsen, 2011. ISBN: 9789163868665
Reviewed by Kristina Sjögren in SBR 2012:1
Jessica Schiefauer was awarded the prestigious August Prize in 2011, in the category ‘Swedish Book of the Year for Children and Young People’, for the novel Pojkarna (The Boys), her second book for younger readers. Pojkarna is about three fourteen-yearold girls: Kim, who is the narrator, Bella and Momo. They are good friends, stick together and comfort each other after the usual verbal and sometimes physical sexual abuse from their male classmates. They feel uncomfortable and vulnerable inside their budding female bodies and keep to themselves in Bella’s greenhouse.
A strange flower suddenly grows in the greenhouse. From its velvety depths, the girls retrieve a syrupy substance. They taste it, and now the magic happens – their girls’ bodies are turned into boys’! As they walk out into the night they are amazed by the different response they receive when perceived as boys. People look at them in a totally different way, they are no longer the Other, but instead feel free and empowered. However, as for Cinderella, the enchantment does not last long. At dawn, Kim, Bella and Momo are turned into girls again, having to go to school seriously short of sleep. But for as long as they have the flower, they can become boys when they wish.
And so, most nights, they venture into Boys’ Land. However, Boys’ Land after a while proves to be a land of drugs, crime and sexism. While Bella and Momo stop going, accept their femininity and start growing into women, Kim with the androgynous name cannot. S/he falls in love with the delinquent youth Tony, who despises girls. Kim stays on in Boys’ Land night after night, while Tony’s criminality and flirting with Death escalates. But the flower is dying and Momo and Bella become seriously worried about Kim…
The cover text on Pojkarna reads ‘About the body as a battlefield and masculinity as a drug’, which pinpoints the main ideas in book. This is a novel about gender. It is about coming to terms with the fact that in our society you are sorted into the ‘not powerful’ category of people if you happen to have a female body. What do you do when classified as ‘woman’ – do you ally yourself with men to get part of their power, or do you liaise with women to fight for equality? And do you have to live as a woman because you have a female body? Questions like these are implicitly asked in the text, where Kim finally deals with her life in an unexpected way.
Pojkarna is written in a flowing and poetic language. There is something timeless about Scheifauer’s literary style, a semblance of fairytale prose, which suits this magical story where young girls transgress the boundaries of gender and reality. It is a fascinating and exciting read,suitable for about twelve years and up. This is actually a book that many adults would enjoy, too.