Saturday, February 4, 2017

Book Review: "This Is How It Always Is" by Laurie Frankel

Penn and Rosie fell in love almost instantaneously. Penn was a writer forever working on his "damned novel," while Rosie worked as an emergency room doctor forever on the night shift. When they decided to have children, especially as their family grew to four boys, they adopted a tandem approach to parenting—"It was just that there was way more to do than two could manage, but by their both filling every spare moment, some of what needed to got done."

One final try for a girl landed them Claude. Claude was precocious—he crawled, walked, and talked earlier than his brothers, but he also was tremendously creative. He liked to write, draw, play music, even bake. He was warm, friendly, and truly a special child. But as Claude approached his fifth birthday, he became obsessed with dresses. What he wanted more than anything was to be a princess, and be able to wear a dress to school.

Rosie and Penn aren't sure what to do. Do they nurture their youngest son's wish, stares and cruel comments and jibes at their parenting be damned, or do they explain to Claude that boys don't wear dresses, and he is a boy? For a while Claude settles for dressing as a boy for school and changing into girl clothes when he returns home, but that really doesn't make him happy. He wants to be a girl.

"How did you teach your small human that it's what's inside that counts when the truth was everyone was pretty preoccupied with what you put on over the outside too?"

As Claude grows, and becomes Poppy, they encourage her to be true to her feelings and who she is. But is that the right parenting choice for a child so young in age? What are the next steps in this journey, not only for Poppy and her parents, but her brothers as well? At some point the burden of keeping Poppy's secret becomes too much to bear for everyone, and then everyone needs to figure out where to go from there.

What choice is the right one? How will Penn and Rosie know if they're acting in their child's best interests, or the best interests of all of their children? How do they protect their child from what they know the world always seems to have in store for people who are different?

Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a truly wonderful book. She draws you into the Walsh-Adams family so fully, that you really see how things affect each of them. The book isn't preachy or heavy-handed (although those who believe transgender people to be less than human, and that no matter what you always must remain the gender you're born into will probably not agree), but it also doesn't pretend the whole situation is perfect, for anyone. She emphasizes that it's just as easy to make mistakes by not doing or saying things as it is by doing or saying them.

Frankel is a tremendously talented writer who imbues her books with beautiful emotion. Her previous book, Goodbye for Now (see my review), had me in tears (and I read it a few years before my father died). Frankel even brings emotion to her author's note. But this small exchange in the book moved me the most:

"Tears crawled out of Claude's eyes and nose, and besides he was only five, but he tried to comfort his parents anyway. 'I just feel a little bit sad. Sad isn't bleeding. Sad is okay.'"

Maybe sometimes things happened a little too easily, but I still loved this book. Read it.

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