BOOK REVIEW: This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Rosie and Penn always wanted a daughter. Four sons later, they decide to try one last time – and their beautiful little boy Claude is born. Life continues happily for this big, loving family until the day when Claude says that, when he grows up, he wants to be a girl.
As far as Rosie and Penn are concerned, bright, funny and wonderful Claude can be whoever he or she wants. But as problems begin at school and in the community, the family faces a seemingly impossible dilemma: should Claude change, or should they and Claude try to change the world?
Warm, touching and bittersweet, This Is How It Always Is is a novel about families, love and how we choose to define ourselves. It will make you laugh and cry – and see the world differently.
From the very first page, it is evident that this is going to be a great read.
In the very first scene we are given insight into this family which, even before the birth of their fifth son who may not be their son but their daughter instead, challenge gender norms. Rosie is an emergency room doctor, Penn is a stay at home dad working on his novel.
It doesn’t take long for the reader to grow attached to this large, central cast of characters and, though we know – thanks to the foresight of the blurb – what is going on here, Claude’s gender dysphoria is something that is realised slowly by his parents. Not because they want to ignore it, not because they try and discourage him, but rather because they’ve never tried to put gender boundaries on their children, and there is some confusion resulting from Claude’s developing grasp of the English language.
‘When I grow up and become a girl, will I start over?’
‘Start over from where?’
‘Start over from being a baby?’
‘What do you mean, sweetie?’
‘Will I have to start being a girl from the beginning and grow up all over again? Or will I be a girl who’s the age I am when I’m growed-up and can become one?’
‘You lost me,’ said Rosie.
‘I want to be a little girl when I grow up, but when I’m grown-up, I won’t be little anymore.’
‘Ahh, I see.’ She didn’t. ‘I don’t think you’ll probably want to be a little girl anymore when you grow up. I don’t think you’ll want to be a train or a cat or an ice-cream cone either.’
‘Because that’s silly,’ said Claude.
‘Instead, you’ll probably want a job. Maybe it will be farmer or scientist. Or maybe it will be something you haven’t even thought of yet. It’s okay. You have a long time to decide.’
‘Are there girl farmers and girl scientists?’ said Claude.
‘Of course,’ said Rosie. ‘I’m a girl scientist.’
‘That’s what I want to be then,’ said Claude decisively. ‘A girl scientist. Can I have a Popsicle?’
There are trials and there’s heartbreak, and plenty of serious moments to be sure as Claude transitions to Poppy. But there’s a lot of humour and heartwarming moments, too, and Frankel’s writing style delivers a lot of information without it feeling preachy or heavy handed. This is an easy and fun read, but which takes us all inside the life of a hectic family with five children, one of whom is going through a big change. But Poppy isn’t the only one we hear from. When the family moves house, and when various things happen involving the secret this family is keeping, it’s not just Poppy’s world that is turned upside down.
This was an absolute joy to read and it covers an important topic, written by someone who has been through this transitional period with her own child.
Frankel’s novel will leave you with the warm and fuzzies, but it also has a lot of heft, which stops it from being a pointlessly fluffy story, instead resulting in one that is sure to hold a place in your heart for many years to come.
About the Author: