This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
When Rosie and Penn, parents of four boys, learn they are expecting their fifth child, Rosie hopes this one will be a girl. When Claude is born, she comes to terms with the chaos of a family of five boys and nurtures the individuality of each of her sons. But, when Claude is three, he announces that he wants to be a girl, and by the time he starts kindergarten, he’s carrying a purse to school and wearing dresses at home. He’s not allowed to wear his dress to school, but when Rosie discovers a year’s worth of Claude’s artwork, she realizes they need to change their approach. The rest of the family is drawn in detail, while Claude is a stick figure; the rest of the family is painted in vibrant color while Claude is nearly invisible in black and white.
“And then, soon, Claude was nowhere. Rosie Where’s-Waldo-ed for fifteen minutes and failed to find him at all.”
Their son is disappearing before their eyes. They know they need to communicate that they love him unconditionally, no matter what he wears, how he styles his hair, or what he calls himself. Claude becomes Poppy, and blossoms into a confident, happy little girl.
Of course, this decision is not without challenges and complications. As Poppy grows, the choices become more difficult and murky, and Rosie and Penn don’t always agree on what is best for Poppy and for their family. Frankel, who herself has a transgender child, does an incredible job developing each character into real person with doubts and insecurities, each showing “grace under extreme pressure”, a phrase she utilizes throughout the book. She tells this important story with subtlety and gorgeous prose, and closes it with a sense of hope.
On the surface, this is a story about a family with a transgender child, but the themes can be applied to anyone who is someone’s parent or someone’s child. It is about the difficulty of guiding tiny humans towards the path that most fits their personality, and encouraging them to take the path less travelled, despite the difficulty, because it will provide them a more peaceful life.
“The path on the right was paved and shady, rolling gently along a childhood filled with acceptance to an adulthood marked by requited love, grandchildren, and joy, whereas the other path was rock-strewn and windblown, uphill both directions, and led she had no idea where. Here she was at the crossroads letting her baby boy run blindly down the path on the left (in a skirt and heels)…”
“This is How it Always Is” would make an ideal book club pick, the controversial topics sure to spark an interesting discussion. Buy or download it as soon as possible as this book is not to be missed.
Guest Blogger: This review was written by avid reader and author Heather Frimmer. She is currently in the final stages of completing her first novel.