- 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 1.3 x 217.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 40 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,586 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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Top customer reviews
There were plenty of twists elsewhere in the book to keep my attention. I thought the descriptions of the difficulties Leo encountered as a transgender were fairly realistic, although how he dealt with the "bathroom issue" after he was outed was never discussed.
Near the end I thought Leo (formerly Megan) and Kate (formerly David) might become an item -- now that would have been different. They did dance together at a Christmas party, somewhat awkwardly, but that was as far as that got.
Told with alternating P.O.V’s, it begins with David, the bullied outsider. I like how this character dealt with gender identity intelligently. Research. Though this is only the beginning of David’s journey. It should have been noted somewhere that not all trans know they were born in the wrong body at an early age – sometimes it’s an evolution from something not feeling quite right before arriving at the at conclusion of being transgendered (and involved diagnosis from a professional). I felt like it glazed over some important mechanics in the transgendered experience for the sake of story. Though David was a little frustrating for me at times, I was able to relate and enjoyed a different view of the world at large.
Our second narrator, Leo is an all-around good guy. I enjoyed his strength and found his stand-offishness true to character. However, I guessed the plot twist involving his story from the beginning. Kind of deflated my enjoyment a little. Loved Leo. His story, his mannerisms. And it was great to see a separation in narrative styles with the switching POV’s – Lis Williamson did a fantastic job with each of their voices.
Begrudgingly I admit it lacked a personal engagement from me, something intangible about the characters of David and Leo held me back from truly believing in them. I also had an issue with how they were obliged to get along – it felt forced and artificial.
Effie and Alex – David’s best friends. Love the support and unadulterated no-holes barred relationship they shared. So rare. At times their silliness destroyed the authenticity for me. But loved their sense of humour – had me laughing quite a lot. My favourite scene is when David points Effie and Alex out to Leo, and they pull faces – priceless!
This story brings to light much of the pain and turmoil transgendered teens face in coming to terms with their condition/identity, some of it had tears falling from my eyes. (the feels! The feels!) The relationships in ‘The Art of Being Normal’ are beautiful.
I did want to read something other than issues regarding their gender identity. This book was all about that, and didn’t have much otherwise. I’m starting to find books are using GLBTQIA issues as a plot point or the big reveal annoying: when these are issues that are dealt with for a lifetime… along with everything else. So, more everything else please.
It’s all a very “nice’ depiction of a transgendered experience – and I use that term hesitantly – because some youth experience so much more darkness and hardship. But that is too serious for what is meant to be a supportive, uplifting, and positive story about trying to live your truth.
Great pacing, I completed this novel in two sittings and never found places where my attention was wandering. Great subject matter, but I found it very predictable, though, I would highly recommend this to all my friends.
Proud to have ‘The Art of Being Normal’ in my library, it has been the most grounded story that has dealt with sexual identity in such a point-blank style to date. Refreshing.