Fiction

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

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This is the official description of the book:

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

I put this description on here because it is one of the few that gives a true picture of what this book is about. What do you do as parents when your 5 year old tells you that he is a girl? This comes after Rosie and Penn have had 4 boys and tried for a 5th girl in hopes that it will be a girl this time. Rosie secretly hoping for a girl to name Poppy – the name of her sister who she lost as a child.

At first Rosie and Penn think it is a phase and treats it as such, but as the years go by they come to see that it is real and the dilemma and issues they face as parents are basically the foundation of this book. 

It’s easy to think this book is simply about a transgender child but I think it covers a multitude of things. I liked how Frankel makes you question what it is to be a parent. When you become a parent do you really consider ALL the possibilities that it comes with and are you equipped to handle it?

With Claude wanting to be a girl, there are 4 other kids to consider but inevitably, a lot of attention is given to Claude and the other kids have to suffer with less attention and also keep this secret within the family, which is a lot to ask of kids. Also, having to deal with a spouse who has different ideas of dealing with things. What is your boundary as a parent considering your kid is still young and needs guidance? How do you know if you are stifling or guiding?

This book is different in that in this case, Claude has supportive parents who are willing to go through far lengths to help with his transition, which usually isn’t the case. Some may consider it unrealistic but I think some people, albeit not the norm, do hit the jackpot with supportive family. I do think, Frankel was balanced in that I didn’t get the sense she was saying this is the best way to handle a situation like this. You could very clearly see that Rosie and Penn were just doing the best they can or rather what they thought was best.

75% into the story, the location shifts to Thailand and for me that is when the book lost the plot for me and kinda went into boring mode. It just didn’t gel with the first part of the story. 

Overall, it was a good read and I think it is a good entry point for anyone who is wary of LGBT topics because the truth about it is as a parent, what do you do if this happens to you? There is a difference between keeping your kid safe at home but there is a whole world out there that is not as friendly and you have to account for that. I found a point in the book interesting when a character said when a girl wants to only wear pants and kick a ball, no one bats an eyelid and she is called a tom boy but when a boy wants to play with dolls and wear skirts everyone is in a panic.

Laurie Frankel is the mother of a transgender child but insists that this book is not autobiographical as everyone will deal with this differently. I’ll leave you with this quote from Frankel’s acknowledgements (yes, I read those):

“For my child, for all our children, I want more options, more paths through the woods, wider ranges of normal, and unconditional love. Who doesn’t want that? I know this book will be controversial, but honestly? I keep forgetting why”

We’d love more interaction from you guys, so please feel free to let us know what you think. Do you think you will read this? How do you think you will react as a parent if your kid came up to you as a 5 year old insisting they were the opposite gender of what they are? Drop a comment!

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