- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 31, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374302375
- ISBN-13: 978-0374302375
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 53 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Art of Being Normal: A Novel Hardcover – May 31, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Only David Piper's two best friends know a big secret, and as puberty brings rapid changes to the teen's body, the clock is ticking for the chance to tell the Pipers that David is really a girl. David shares narrating duties with Leo, a tough transfer student uninterested in friendships. After Leo stands up for the frequently bullied David, the two slowly become friends, though neither could have guessed how much they actually have in common: Leo, who used to be called Megan, is transgender, too. When word gets out about Leo, he flees, remembering what happened at his old school, and goes in search of his birth father. David accompanies him, returning home having had an opportunity to live a few days as Kate, David's true self, and ready to tell her parents who she really is. Leo's and David's stories are painful and complicated. The novel is filled with transphobic slurs, bullying, physical violence, and nasty reactions from other characters. In most cases, someone points out how cruel, unfair, or incorrect these offensive assertions are. Both Leo and Kate have supportive, loving families (even if Leo's mother is otherwise a nightmare) and increasingly supportive friends. The book ends on a positive note, especially for Kate, who has longed to be visible. Pacing issues and the curious choice to misgender Kate throughout most of the book despite her announcement on page one that she's a girl mar this otherwise well-written book. VERDICT An important addition to collections for its first-person perspectives on the experiences and inner lives of transgender teens.—Amanda MacGregor, Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN
“Williamson presents a fresh perspective in contemporary LGBTQ drama by presenting two heroes in different stages of transitioning and further bringing the teens to life through their foibles and family dramas. Leo is the more interesting character: abrasive but sympathetic, battling anger management and his angrier mother. But David is easy to love because of his huge capacity for that emotion. The best part is that it is a friendship tale; romance plays a role in the story, but it is not the focus. This is a wonderful addition to any teen collection.” ―VOYA, starred review
“‘I am fourteen and time is running out.’ David is getting taller, and everything that marks the teen as biologically male is growing. Despite having researched gender transitioning, it doesn’t seem possible, and while David’s two best friends know, parents are another matter. Meanwhile, working-class Leo transfers to David’s very middle-class school; when Leo punches the bully who’s tormenting David, they become unlikely (and, for Leo, reluctant) friends. The book alternates between Leo and David’s viewpoints, but readers don’t find out what they have in common until Leo’s burgeoning romance gets derailed. For loner Leo, David is a chance to have a real friend; for David, Leo’s an example of what’s possible if you can speak your truth. Debut author Williamson does a good job of depicting British class realities and David and Leo’s struggles with family, bullying, friendship, and bravery. While the book doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of being a trans teen, it offers hope and the sense that even if you can’t get everything you want, you can get what you need.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Two British transgender teens try to come to terms with their lives while facing serious bullying in their school...David and Leo alternate narration chapter by chapter, the former confiding her discomfort and fear, the latter describing the sexual fireworks he feels when making out with Alicia. Williamson has worked with teens grappling with their gender identities, and she folds practical information, about hormonal therapy to freeze puberty, for instance, as well as empathy into her story. A welcome, needed novel.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“An important addition to collections for its first-person perspectives on the experiences and inner lives of transgender teens.” ―School Library Journal
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When David was 8 years old, his class was told to write about who they wanted to be when they grew up. This is what David wrote: “I want to be a girl.” Five and half years later that wish has not changed, but it seems to David that time is running out to make it right. Everyday his body is changing in the wrong direction, he's getting taller, his feet are getting bigger, and other parts of his anatomy seem to have minds of their own. He hates the strange body staring back at him from the mirror. But everytime he tries to work up the courage to tell his parents about who he really is, he chickens out at the last minute. How is anything supposed to change for the better if he can't even explain, to the very people who might be able to help, exactly what is wrong?
Leo needs to focus on flying under the radar at Eden Park, so he can sit his exams, get into a college, and get as far away from Cloverdale as possible. He doesn't mind the rumor spreading around that he got expelled from his last school because he was a psycho. If that helped people stay out of his way, mores the better. But things are not quite going to plan, because the most beautiful girl he'd ever laid eyes on keeps striking up conversations with him, a kid from year ten, David, wants to be his friend (for some inexplicable reason), and he's on permanent probation for punching a kid (who really had it coming). But he can't let any of this distract him, Eden Park is his ticket out of Cloverdale and he HAS to escape.
This is a story, more than anything, about friendship. There are other things going on, of course. Both our POV characters David and Leo have big things happening in their lives that they have to learn to deal with: first romances, school bullies, family issues and endless identity crises. But, at the crux, this was a story about finding someone you can relate to and suddenly not feeling alone.
I quite enjoyed this book.
I liked that it was more about friendship and self discovery than romance. I liked that it had a more realistic depiction of the struggles of a trans-teen. I liked that it got into some of the class issues, as well as the double standards still operating towards psychological torment versus physical violence in the school system. I liked that it captures how very isolating and lonely it can feel to be seen as not normal and how much that can screw with your mind, while you decide from minute to minute if you'd rather tear down what is normative or magically blend in. I liked that things didn't come one hundred percent easy for the characters or magically get better in an after-school special kinda way.
It was just, overall, a solid teen novel about friendship and finding yourself.
Honestly, the thing I found most irksome was the plot description on the back cover. A detail about Leo is revealed in the first sentence, that Leo himself doesn't reveal until page 176 of a 344 page novel. Now, there were plenty of signs that this was happening and I probably would have picked up on it from the beginning anyway, even if the back hadn't spoiled it, but I can't say for sure because I didn't have the opportunity to read it that way. In the second paragraph of the plot description they talk about a character named Kate. This name does not appear anywhere in the novel until page 266. Which isn't a huge spoiler… but is kind of a head scratcher. I just don't understand why the plot description was written this way when the book itself wasn't. It's like they were at cross purposes from each other.
Do I recommend this book. Yes, I do. It was a pleasant read, living in that happy medium between unrealistically easy LGBT+ story and overly realistically depressing LGBT+ story. Just don't read the back cover until you've read the rest of the book.
David Piper has really never fit in. Apart from his two best friends, most of his fellow high school students ridicule him for being different. One of the school bullies has called him "Freak Show" since they were younger, but David is willing to wait him out until high school ends. His parents think he is gay, and are waiting for him to tell them.
What David wants, more than anything, is to be a girl. But as he grows taller and more like his father, he wonders if this will ever be a possibility.
Leo Denton is the new kid in David's high school, coming from a poorer area to the more posh private school. Overly exaggerated tales of his exploits at his last high school follow him, but he lets people say what they want about him. Yet while he wants to remain under the radar, two events occur which ensure that wish isn't granted: he stands up for David when he is being bullied, and then he falls for one of the most beautiful and talented girls in school. It's not long before secrets he hoped wouldn't be exposed come to light.
I felt The Art of Being Normal so accurately captured the feelings one experiences when you are different, when you are bullied, and how you just wish you could hide to avoid the ridicule and abuse. Williamson created such complex characters that you feel for and root for, characters you think about after the book is over. Even if once the story hits its stride you have a feeling how the plot will unfold, you're completely drawn into the characters' lives and you want to know what is going to happen.
Like so many YA books out there these days, this type of book didn't exist when I was growing up. I'm so glad that it exists now, however, and hope that people read it, are moved by it, and perhaps convinced to change their behavior, to understand that their definition of "normal" isn't everyone's. So well done...