This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 23, 2017)
Description from the Publisher:
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.
Laurie Frankel's 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 feel as if I should preface this review with a fun story: I first heard about this novel while listening to Anne Bogel host Sarah Stewart Holland on her What Should I Read Next podcast. This was one of my favorite episodes because it not only brought me to request this book, but it also brought me to Holland's fantastic podcast: Pantsuit Politics (along with Beth Silver). Now, fast forward a few weeks later, and I get a re-tweet from Elliot Bay Book Company of a picture I took at Brit Bennett's reading of The Mothers. This garnered me a couple of new followers, one of which was... Laurie Frankel! Unbeknownst to me, she's a local and follows EBBCO. And THEN, one of my dear friends chimes in on my tweets to Laurie (thanking her for the follow and that I had my fingers crossed for a NetGalley of her latest novel) that Laurie was her professor in college! And tonight I'm going with said friend to Laurie's reading at... Elliot Bay Book Company. Full. Circle. Twitter can be a pretty horrible place, but it can be a miraculous one, too.
This is How it Always Is immediately grabbed me as a wonderful story about marriage and family. Yes, the plot is driven by the child with gender dysphoria, but each of the characters are imbued with such authentic detail that Penn, Rosie and their children ALL wormed their way into my heart. The minutiae of their family life felt so familiar and intimate: from the details like the names given for the kids rooms (the self proclaimed 'shark cave' or parent named POH for 'pit of hell'), to those terrifyingly familiar moments of parenting decisions.
"When was the last time something was bothering one of the kids or he was acting strange or he wasn't sleeping or doing well in math or sharing nicely during free-choice time, and we knew why?" "Knew why?" Rosie said. "Knew why. Absolutely knew what was wrong and what should be done to fix it and how to make that happen." "As a parent?" "As a parent." "Never?" "Never," Penn agreed. "Not ever. Not once. You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what's good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don't get to see the future."
DAMN. This novel is full of these sharp observations about life as a parent and how everything affects the family as a whole. At times it almost felt like an editorial, but with great breadth and depth of emotion: I laughed, I cried, I clutched my hand to my heart. And, of course, it's a fascinating portrait of a transgender child - written by a parent of a transgender child. As progressive as I am, I felt like I learned SO MUCH and gained even more perspective on this timely issue. It is not at all heavy handed, but we can all learn from someone so brave to share a part of her story. You can read more about Laurie in this Seattle Times article. It sparked great conversation at the dinner table with my husband and he directed me to this article he found enlightening from National Geographic, which is also worth a read.
Thank you NetGalley and Flatiron Publishing for an advance copy for my review. And, of course, to Laurie Frankel for sharing a version of your story, your truth - and hopefully changing the world.
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