This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Contemporary | LGBTQ+
Published by Flatiron Books
Released January 4th, 2017
Goodreads | Amazon
I had seen the cover of this contemporary novel around, but I always avoided it because I assumed it was a young adult contemporary, which I tend to not enjoy. Turns out, I shouldn’t have judged it by its cover, because it’s a hard-hitting adult contemporary about a family whose youngest son dreams of being a girl.
Claude, that little boy, becomes Poppy with the support of his large family (mother, father, and four male siblings). Their lives are far from easy, however. They encounter and have to overcome a wide range of issues, such as which bathroom Poppy is allowed to use at school, if the parents of his friends need to know, and finding an LGBTQ-friendly place to live.
I listened to this novel as an audiobook through Scribd, narrated by Gabra Zackman, and the first thing that struck me about the novel was that I wasn’t a fan of Laurie Frankel’s writing style. The flow of the story, the dialogue, the metaphors… a lot of it struck me as oddly written, although obviously, that’s a personal choice.
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Putting the sentence structure and writing aside, however, I did enjoy This Is How It Always Is. I’ve read books about trans adults, but this was my first experience reading about being trans as a child. However, it was definitely easy to forget that Claude/Poppy was supposed to be so young, as they talk and act quite a bit older.
It was really interesting, and admirable, how the brothers dealt with the change in their youngest sibling. For the most part, they accepted and supported Poppy’s desire to become a girl, and it became the only place where she didn’t feel judged for her choices. Her parents, as well, had to adjust to the change. Her mother was often terrified for her child, especially in terms of the higher rates of violence perpetrated against trans individuals. (Which, infuriatingly, is a very real concern.) Her father, in turn, was very proactive in researching vaginoplasty and hormone blockers.
At the same time that I appreciated the loving relationship within the family, it was almost too perfect. In a family that large, I feel like there would really have been much more struggle and confusion amongst the younger siblings. Also, apparently, the family is stupid rich, because they pick up and move to Seattle suddenly at the beginning of the book. Obviously, not every family with a trans child is going to be able to afford that.
Poppy’s father, Penn, ended up being my favorite character. He’s a writer and had long been telling his children about Grimwald, a character in a fairy tale he created for them. The story changes over time, weaving in and out of Poppy’s story to teach her that it’s okay to be different. I loved the fairy tale being woven into the story as it was.
The ending of the book felt quick and too perfect for me. I hate when books are wrapped up so neatly that everything is resolved, and that’s what happened. Towards the end of the novel, Poppy and her mother take a trip to Thailand, which would certainly be a transformative experience, but it transformed Poppy to the point that it almost felt unrealistic.
The writing of This Is How It Always Is definitely wasn’t for me, but Laurie Frankel wrote a very important story about children who find that they don’t fit into a traditional gender role. You can tell that Frankel feels passionate about this topic, which makes sense because the author has a trans child. Claude/Poppy’s story is important, and readers can learn a lot about stepping outside of traditional gender roles through it.