The Art of Being Normal

by Lisa Williamson
Reviewed by SA

I had very high expectations when I saw this book, and wow, wow wow wow, it did not disappoint. I just have to share it with everyone, it’s fantastic. I picked it up, thinking it was going to be published at the end of may 2016, but it turns out another edition came out a whole year ago, and I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it yet. I think it should be required reading for teenagers everywhere.

Summary25689042

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.

Having not read the blurb in its entirety, Leo revealing that he had been born a girl came as a huge shock to me. I feel like the summary is giving away a huge spoiler! You’re over 50% through the novel when he reveals it, and I did not see it coming at all. Maybe I should have!

Not only is this a book about transgender teens, but it tackles questions of race and class as well, and everything that makes you different to ‘normal’. Characters struggle with fitting into a very distinct boxes, and are often bullied for sticking out. Whether it’s your financial status, where you come from, or what you look like, people can be cruel if you’re not like the others. Both David and Leo see that first hand, as well as many students around them… and a lot of us readers, too.

David and Leo’s points of view alternate through the novel, giving you the chance to follow two very distinct lives. David is financially privileged, and is afraid to telling his parents that he’s actually a she (I’m using he pronouns here because David does too, for the large majority of the book). Leo comes from a poorer household, lives in the projects with his single mom, and has been identifying and passing as male for quite a while (and quite successfully at his new school, too). But their friendship will grow into something fantastic. They have a very distinct voice (you don’t need the chapter indications to know who you’re following) and are incredibly relatable, even vividly real.

Tackling this kind of story would be incredibly difficult for any author, but Williamson does it masterfully. The writing is beautiful and gripping, and the characters have such depth. She doesn’t fall into the tropes of the YA genre, which makes the novel unpredictable, and gives it a realistic feel. The ending was a little magical, but in a way that felt unique and not forced. As I said before, this book should be required reading, not just because it tells an important story, but because it tells it well.

This book is brilliant, fun, and poignant: read it at your own emotional risk.

One thing that bugged me about the edition I read was that I felt like it had been americanified. Is that a thing? When I read it, there were words and odd things that seemed off, and added just for  an american audience. A small example would be the use of the word ‘soccer’ over ‘football’. I believe the edition I read is the American edition, which will come out on May 31st: and I suspect the original book doesn’t have this sort of problem. In any case, it broke me out of the novel a little. 

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