Book: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Genre: YA Contemporary

Title: The Art of Being Normal

Author: Lisa Williamson

Release Date: 31 May 2016 (US release)

This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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Summary: 

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.

As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.

What I Liked:

So, I read this book in one sitting, which I haven’t done with a book in a while.  I just couldn’t put it down!  I liked the characters, I liked the way transgender identities were portrayed and explored, and most of all, I loved how real the book felt.

Sometimes, LGBT books sort of feel like a fantasy, where nothing bad ever happens and homophobia/transphobia just doesn’t exist.  On the other end of the spectrum, some LGBT books are super harsh and depressing, containing self-harm, disowning, hate crimes, and suicide.  Real life is, for the most part, somewhere in between, and while it is nice to read the fantasy every once in a while, it’s refreshing to find a book that rings so true to real life.

I also like that this book doesn’t talk down to it’s audience.  Today’s YA audience is really savvy, so they don’t need things spelled out for them.  They know what gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender mean.  They are on the internet, where they see people talk about this type of stuff everyday on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.  It is important to have books like this; Book were teenage readers are treated with respect and not either glossing over or over explaining important topics.

What I Didn’t:

This book is very British, in terms of it’s vocabulary and education system.  As a long time watcher of many BBC programs, this didn’t throw me off, but I could see where it might be a problem for some younger people.  The slang isn’t too distracting, but I could see the British school system being super confusing. (e.g. He’s in year ten, but he’s only 14-yeears-old? Leo is 15, but he’s going to college next year? College and university are two different things? huh?!?)

The only other thing that was a bit off to me was some of the pronouns.  I feel like David should have maybe been referenced a bit more as ‘she’ and ‘her,’ especially since we spend so much time in David’s head.  It’s a bit weird that David knows that he’s a girl, but still thinks of himself as ‘he’ and ‘him.’  But maybe it’s because he hasn’t begun to transition yet and his true self is a secret from almost everyone, so he doesn’t feel comfortable using the correct pronouns.  (Or maybe I’m putting too much thought on this.  It’s up to oneself to decide on which pronouns one feels comfortable with, so I shouldn’t really judge.)

My last complaint is really more a choice about the summary of the book.  See, I didn’t actually read the full summary before I started reading.  So I didn’t actually know that Leo was transgender as well.  I did figure it out before the rest of the characters did, but I liked that for the first half of the book, it isn’t mentioned.  I felt that it was a nice touch, showing the reader (and David) how transgender people are just normal people.  You can’t always tell just by looking, and even if you can tell, they are a person with friend, family, and feeling just like you.  So, I guess I just wish that Leo being born a girl wasn’t in the summary.  I think that it adds more to the story for the reader to begin the story not knowing and either figuring it out for themselves or learning it along with the characters.

Overall:

This is the type of book that didn’t exist when I was a teenager.  Back in those days (in the 2000’s), LGBT books were starting to become more of a thing, but they really focused more on the L and G, and even that could be scandalous.  I remember my friends seeing a copy of Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez at the bookstore and giggling over the summary.  I played along, but I also memorized the title and requested it at the library (where I checked it out red-faced with embarrassment).  That was thirteen years ago.  It really is amazing how quickly things can change, and for the better!

I only say all of this, because I really wish that I had this book when I was in high school.  Though I am not a transgender person, I have struggled with my sexual orientation and gender identity in the past.  This book is a wonderful exploration of gender identity and transgender issues, the good things and the bad, without being overly depressing or overly optimistic.  It’s interesting to see into these character’s heads and feel their struggles, not only with gender identity, but also with just being a teenager.  I couldn’t put this book down, and I very much look forward to reading more books by Lisa Williamson in the future.

My Rating: 4/5 

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