This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel

Rosie and Penn have always wanted a daughter. Four sons later, they decide to try one last time — and their beautiful little boy Claude is born. Life continues on until the day that Claude says that, when he grows up, he wants to be a girl.

As far as his parents are concerned, he can be whatever he wants when he grows up. But as problems begin at school and within their community, they begin to question their choices. The novel follows the family’s journey as they face a seemingly impossible dilemma: should Claude change, or should they and Claude try and change the world?

This Is How It Always Is is a warm and bittersweet story about families, love and how we define ourselves. While it will challenge the way people think, it will also frustrate readers. Throughout the entire book I couldn’t help but think of the potential. Frankel had a real opportunity to educate and advocate for change in the way our society treats children with gender dysphoria. While there were events in the book that shone a light on this, overall the family was just too understanding to really believe, and the ending was too perfect.

Readers expecting an honest, raw take on what it’s like to raise a transgender child will be disappointed. Every character (well, almost every character) is open-minded, thoughtful, kind and logical. They all work hard to make Poppy, aka Claude, feel like a normal little girl. The characters that don’t are simply shut out never to grace the story again — the entire family move across the country when Claude’s friend’s father acts out. The standout part of the book is when Rosie, a doctor, treats a transgender patient who was beaten to death by a group of men. It’s a pivotal point in the book but it barely causes a ripple. There’s no fights, only gentle, loving discussions between Claude’s family. Penn and Rosie’s marriage is a fairytale. As lovely as that sounds, it seems so unrealistic in real life.

It is a lovely book, with plenty of humour and lots of heart-warming moments. Sadly though, the Poppys of the real world will find it hard to relate to such a perfect story when their own families and friends are reacting very differently. It was only after finishing the book that I discovered Frankel has a transgender child herself. While it might have changed my viewpoint on the story, sadly it just made it feel a little too self-congratulatory.

This Is How It Always Is is a great book if you just want to escape from the world for a moment. Sadly, it doesn’t live up to its potential but its a good start in a move to shine a light on gender dysphoria. 

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TITLE: This Is How It Always Is
AUTHOR(S): Laurie Frankel
RRP: $34.99
ISBN: 9781250088550

Rebekah is an Otago-based mother of two young girls. The former journalist and primary school teacher has a soft spot for New Zealand authors and young adult fiction. Follow her on Twitter.

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