This is How It Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel

Is it read-worth? Yes, yes, 100 times yes. It is extremely rare for me to read a book that changes me as a person and this book had a profound impact on me. This book really opened my eyes and made me want to explore all sides of a complex topic that we as a society need to consider simplifying. Everyone deserves to live the life they want to live.

Back of the book:

“This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.”

What’s my take on it?

I wasn’t raised in a family that would read this book and want to open their eyes. Most of them wouldn’t even be able to. My family prefers to keep the topic of transgenderism in the closet, prefers to either pretend transgender individuals don’t exist or that they very much so shouldn’t exist. And, while I’ve never been that vehement towards anyone who makes the decision to live their life the way they want to (why should I have that right?), the topic has always made me uncomfortable because of my family’s open discomfort and (to be honest) hatred. This book helped me feel more comfortable with a topic that has always been taboo in my household- even though it definitely shouldn’t be. It also helped me better understand people who are transgender. The world is changing for the better and every person on earth, as long as they’re not causing harm to others, should be able to live the life they want to live without judgement from others. This book is beautiful in the way that it makes Claude/Poppy’s struggle seem like a fairy-tale that everyone can relate to without forgetting the fact that many readers will have preconceived notions about the issues it discusses. I think it’s the perfect book for opening the eyes of people who have never really considered or understood how complex gender can be.

However, I feel like the book fails to incorporate a very serious problem: a lot of parents aren’t supportive of their child. Poppy is placed in a loving family that wants her to be happy at all costs. Most families would rather their child conform and wouldn’t bother to set up a safe, caring environment where Poppy could be herself (or move across the country when they encounter blatant homophobia.) Yet, that is completely forgivable. The book isn’t meant to apply to every case – just this one – and it gives parents who are struggling to deal with their own children’s changes (whatever they may be) a place to go for inspiration. And, again, that overall sense of positivity and support does lend itself quite well to the fairy-tale vibes of the story at large. It isn’t meant to cover every issue that transgender people face, but instead feels like the beginning of a larger discussion we all need to be having.