This was by far my favorite book choice from Reese Witherspoon’s book club.
Book Review of This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (with quotes!)
- New York Times Bestseller
- People Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2017
- Amazon’s Best Books of 2017: Top 20
- Amazon’s Best Literature and Fiction of 2017
- Bustle’s 17 Books Every Woman Should Read From 2017
- PopSugar’s Our Favorite Books of the Year (So Far)
- Refinery29’s Best Books of the Year So Far
- BookBrowse’s The 20 Best Books of 2017
- Pacific Northwest Book Awards Finalist
- The Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of 2017
- Longlisted for 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award
Below is my full review of This Is How It Always Is, a New York Times bestseller.
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. And if you screw up – if with your incomplete contradictory information you make the wrong call – nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.
Sometimes the best thing about a book is the superhero power it gives you to get inside the mind of people in different circumstances than yourself. This book does just that for anyone without a front-row seat to the transgender community, and it does so with painstaking care and love.
Only a parent of a transgender child could thread this needle so delicately, and author Laurie Frankel indeed is such a parent.
This Is How It Always Is gives a voice to a transgender child, and it connects with all parents who are faced with supporting their child when they don’t always know the “right” answer.
Penn is a writer of fairy tales, and his wife Rosie is a doctor. Together, they have five boys. Claude is the youngest, and his parents had hoped he would be a girl before he was born. One day, young Claude puts on a dress and says he wants to be a girl when he grows up.
He said he wanted to a chef when he grew up. He also said he wanted to be a cat when he grew up. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a chef, a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a farmer, a recorder player, a scientist, an ice cream cone, a first basement, or maybe the inventor of a new kind of food that tasted like chocolate ice cream but nourished like something his mother would say yes to for breakfast. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a girl.
From there, the story navigates the family’s journey through the transgender community. They are a loving and supportive family who mean to do well for each other but are, well, human and, therefore, subject to confusion, mistakes and conflict — kind of like a 90’s sitcom.
Penn approaches his children’s problems by continually telling them the long-running fairy tale of Grumwald and Stephanie to impart insight into their lives. Rosie is bound by her scientist’s logic and strives to make family choices that make rational sense. Besides Claude, their four other sons must deal with the wide-ranging emotions of having a transgender sibling.
Still, Claude is a “lucky one” — a transgender child guided with such care.
I wish for my child, for all our children, a world where they can be who they are and become their most loved, blessed, appreciated selves.
If only all transgender children could be so lucky.
The situations are often sticky. The family must grapple with delicate questions: Should we nurture Claude’s desire to be a girl? How? How much is too much? How soon is too soon? Is this just a phase? Should we tell other people? Overwhelmed by the complexity of these parenting questions, the family ultimately decides to keep the secret.
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?
Then, one day, the secret can no longer bear its own weight. “Happy” is harder than it sounds.
Author Laurie Frankel poetically offers themes and lessons without being preachy or melodramatic.
This was by far my favorite book choice from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, as well as one of my favorite family drama fiction books. I highly recommend This Is How It Always Is to anyone with an open mind and heart, and to anyone navigating the transgender community alone.
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