Title: This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Published: 24 January 2017
Earlier this week, I finished the novel This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. I have heard about this book since it came out January 2018, but with finishing up grad school and then trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (no, I still don’t know, gosh stop asking me), I didn’t get to it last year. I started it last Friday and finished it in a little over a day later. I was mesmerized by the family Frankel described and how they grow and change among each other, as all families do; however, this family had the added challenge of having to grow and change with a child who is transgender.
The Walsh-Adams family consists of the parents Rosie and Penn, and their four boys: Roosevelt (Roo), Ben, Orion, and Rigel. Then Claude was born. Even though Rosie was hoping and praying for a girl, she was extremely happy with her loving, smiling, baby boy. Yet, as Claude grows up he starts exhibiting different characteristics in comparison to his brothers and starts experimenting with different clothes. Claude loves wearing dresses and dreams of being a princess. Then, Claude tells his parents he is a girl.
As I have said, I have been wanting to read this book all last year, and I’m so glad I finally did read it (listened to it). This was a beautiful book, but the beauty lies in the fact that not only is the book about a transgender child, but it focuses on the family as well. A family who accepts Poppy (Claude changes her name to Poppy, his aunt who died from cancer) right away, without questioning. There were many times I wanted to bawl my eyes out, like when Poppy asked “when I grow up and become a girl, will I start over?”
Most of their town in Madison, Wisconsin are accepting of Poppy. While she has to use the nurses bathroom, her classmates in kindergarten don’t care that Poppy starts wearing dresses to school instead of “boy clothes.” However, tragedy strikes when Rosie, whose an ER doctor, is called to a patient who the staff all find out is transgender. The woman had not yet had bottom surgery. She was a young, college student who was beaten to death by fraternity boys after they saw that she had a penis. Rosie afraid for her own daughter’s life decides, with Penn’s support, to move the family to Seattle.
At this point, they decide to keep Claude a secret. As their friend, Dr. Tongo, a social worker at the hospital Rosie worked at in Wisconsin, advises them to do so, as it’s no one’s business to know about a child’s privates. But, as with all secrets, the Walsh-Adams family is upended by their secret when Poppy is ten.
Many complain that the family and experiences of the family are too unrealistic in this novel. After Poppy is outed to the whole school by the mean girl, Rosie, due to her work, goes to Thailand to work with a clinic in a rural area and takes Poppy with her, is apparently one unrealistic event. Along with the fact that the parents are too supportive is too unrealistic.
I wholeheartedly disagree! One, the reason I have been so excited to read this book is I have wanted to be more intentional about surrounding myself with LGBTQ media (books, movies, tv etc.). Most LGBTQ media a person can find is horribly depressing. Not that that is not important, but I also like to see LGBTQ normalized. For people to become more accepting of LGBTQ, is to have them in regular roles like straight people are. The family being accepting, from the parents to the brothers (although there’s a moment when you think Roo is not accepting but it’s a misunderstanding), is refreshing to see and read about. I LOVE that the parents are accepting, so accepting that when school does find out Poppy is upset and caves for a while because she never had to come out before now. Not that those scenes are not truly heart wrenching they are, but family acceptance should be showed, as a way for families who may not be accepting see one that is (even if it is fictional).
The ending has also been stated as too hunky dory everything’s okay, kumbaya. I don’t know what book they read because that’s not what I read. Is the ending happy? Yet, it is. Rosie and Penn have been back from Thailand for a while now. Poppy has made up with her best friend. Penn has completed his first book (not the “damn novel” he was working on), the bed-time story he told to his sons and daughter every night (but he started it when he began dating Rosie). They’re all sitting down for dinner at the end of the day. A lot of happy things have happened at the end of the novel, but the characters do realize that there will be trials up ahead, eventually a book has to end though.
Frankel stated in an interview with NPR: one of the things that I hope is that people who read this book will read it and forget about the transgender issues and just be in the embrace of this family and realize that this family is like all families: They love and they keep secrets from one another and they protect one another and they struggle with how to do that and they have these challenges. And it’s hard, but it isn’t scary and it isn’t abnormal at all.” The novel is a family drama novel that just happens to have the “drama” centered around a child who is transgender. All families have their own issues, tragedies, and joys to deal with, to celebrate and mourn. This is how it always is.
Parents have to raise children who are their own unique selves. You have to make decisions. Sometimes they’re great. Sometimes not so great. You see and you learn. Easy is boring. As Penn says: “but its not as good as getting to be who you are or stand up for what you believe in.”