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This Is How It Always Is: A Novel Hardcover – January 24, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: In recent years we’ve seen an increasing number of memoirs from transgender individuals and from parents forging uncharted waters in order to help their transgender children live happy, healthy lives in a society that still largely defines gender by what’s in your pants. In her novel This is How It Always Is Laurie Frankel takes those real-life experiences and puts them into a big-hearted story of family and secrets. Penn and Rosie are a close, loving couple, living in Madison, Wisconsin with their five boys. But it becomes evident before long that their youngest, Claude, feels like he should have been born a girl. So how do these strong, supportive parents go about helping their son live as the person he wants to be? It’s a fascinating thing to behold. The nuances and unforeseen pitfalls of trying to protect your child from fear and hate while nurturing a sense of acceptance is daunting. What is private and what is a secret, and what is, really, nobody’s business? Sometimes secrets have a way of materializing in the blink of an eye or the span of an innocuous question, and this novel is about the lengths we will go, as parents and siblings, to protect each other. And how we react when our secrets are exposed. This is How It Always Is in an incredible read that speaks to the heart of what it means to love and be loved by family. --Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review
“It’s early days, but this big-hearted novel about a family with a transgender child is in the lead for the most sensitively and sincerely told story of 2017…Frankel’s portrayal of even the most openhearted parents’ doubts and fears around a child’s gender identity elevates this novel.”
―People, “Book of the Week”
“Deeply satisfying…An intimate family story…Day-to-day parenting dilemmas are where Frankel shines.”
―The New York Times Book Review
“Brave, complicated, occasionally horrifying and frequently very funny…Frankel is a first-rate storyteller."
“Frankel has tackled this controversial topic in a warm, funny and honest way and one that will undoubtedly spark thought and conversation.”
―The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Frankel’s writing is witty and wise, and her characters are reminiscent of those in family capers such as the film The Royal Tenenbaums or Commonwealth, Ann Patchett’s recent novel about an eclectic brood…This is a fascinating, gut-wrenching, timely and enjoyable read―and a must for your next book-club discussion.”
“This Is How It Always Is isn’t only a novel about the challenges of life with an atypical child. It’s a story about the challenges of parenting and love, period...This beautiful story is deeply personal, a heart-rending glimpse of an author writing her way to understanding.”
“A novel of great empathy and compassion that transcends politics…This is a family that you will take into your heart and―like all friends―you will welcome the changes that they bring to your life.”
―The Seattle Review of Books
“Sly and charming…Comes at the perfect time…This Is How It Always Is explores the travails of a modern family, where challenges about a child’s gender are the same as any other struggles of growing up.”
“A bold, honest, heartbreaking story about the choices parents make, and how life goes on, but not always according to plan. This must-read novel… is the perfect pick for book clubs.”
“One of the most timely and big-hearted family stories I have read in a long time…This is a beautiful novel about the unexpected curve balls of parent and sibling relationships, and the limitless boundaries of family love.”
“This wise and often funny novel is a compassionate lesson in discovering and welcoming what makes each of us unique.”
“Illuminatingly nuanced and heartfelt, This Is How It Always Is is the story of how a family evolves―and grows―together."
“Sharp and surprising. This is a wonderfully contradictory story―heartwarming and generous, yet written with a wry sensibility.”
―Publishers Weekly ("Pick of the Week," starred review)
"Well-plotted, well-researched, and unflaggingly interesting...As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year."
―Kirkus (starred review)
“I was lucky enough to receive an advance reading copy of this very special book about a family with a secret. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think. Preorder your copy now.”
―Liane Moriarty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Truly Madly Guilty
“Laurie Frankel writes with more heart than anyone I can think of...With emotional acuity, admirable bravery, utter compassion, and complete understanding, she’s created a family attempting to forge a path through one of life’s most mystifying challenges: how to define what it is that makes your child who he or she is: unique, beloved, and whole. This is a novel everyone should read. It’s brilliant. It’s bold. And it’s time.”
―Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Banquet of Consequences
“In This is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel spins a beguiling tale of a sprawling, loving, ever-changing, unconventional, and yet completely typical modern family as they make their way though a world with no easy answers and no magic solutions. How does Frankel pull off such a story? With great humor and candor. With a powerful narrative voice, and a forthrightness so compelling, we are drawn into the family circle to laugh and cry with them, and to ponder issues great and small. An intimate, wonderfully moving novel that is especially relevant in today’s world.”
―Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of A Sudden Light and The Art of Racing in the Rain
“This is a perfect book club book, a book that should be read in schools, and one of my favorite reads of the year. A challenging subject handled with honesty, grace, humor, dignity, and most of all, love.”
―Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“A lively and fascinating story of a thoroughly modern family and the giant, multifaceted love that binds them. This Is How It Always Is sparkles with wit and wisdom.”
―Maria Semple, New York Times bestselling author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
“Laurie Frankel has written one of those very rare, special novels that examines the way we live―in our homes, in our families, in our bodies―with an astonishing balance of humor, complexity, and above all, kindness. This Is How It Always Is teaches us to look beyond the traditional binary oppositions of boy vs. girl, right vs. wrong, real vs. make-believe, and to find courage and beauty in the in-between.”
―Ruth Ozeki, New York Times bestselling author of A Tale for the Time Being
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Top customer reviews
Laurie Frankel has crafted a magnificent book with a poignant story, wonderfully developed characters, and valuable lessons. When I finished the book, I knew that I would be processing the emotions it evoked for quite some time and carrying the priceless lessons it taught much longer than that. To be quite honest, it evoked such powerful emotions that I had to take a break for a couple of days before I could finish the book, at one point. I found myself connected to Rosie's character on a deeply emotional level, especially, and following her journey--from falling in love with Penn as a medical student to a hard-working mother of five--was fascinating to me. Any mother or father can related to Rosie's and Penn's struggles to make the best decisions possible for all of their children and their desires to ensure that they be safe, healthy, and happy. However, as the mother of a child with autism, I found that their concerns about Poppy's unique situation were ultimately the same as the parent of any child with unique needs. We worry that others will judge our kids, that they will be picked on, or that they will be taken advantage of or abused. We worry that life will be hard for our kids. We worry that they won't live their best lives. We just want our kids to be loved and accepted for who they are on the inside. That's it.
But isn't that what ALL parents really want?
Rosie and Penn aren't perfect parents. They make mistakes and learn as they go, and Roo's storyline is a particularly painful reminder that although Poppy's needs are unique, they are not the only needs that exist in the Walsh-Adams family. However, Rosie and Penn and the things they learn about being parents to five very different children provide excellent lessons in how to raise good humans.
All of this is not to say that the plot and deeply moving lessons in the book are ALL This Is How It Always Is has to offer. The writing itself is unique and hypnotic. Frankel's way of weaving humor throughout the book was entertaining and made the Walsh-Adams family realistic and relatable. Any family with five children (including twin teenagers) is bound to have its fair share of chaotic moments, and witnessing those normal family interactions with all the humor they tend to involve allows readers to take notice of the fact that life moves forward, no matter how heavy our worries and secrets may be. Frankel's sometimes long, rambling sentences are frank and full of references to earlier details in the book, and they made the rhythm of the book completely enchanting, just like the fairy tales Penn told his children every night before bed. The characters themselves are lovable, and I absolutely adored everything about Claude/Poppy, especially, but I found myself drawn to them all.
Ultimately, Laurie Frankel has written an absolutely beautiful novel about loving people--especially our children--no matter what. In her author's note at the end, she says, "I know this book will be controversial, but honestly? I keep forgetting why." I keep coming back to those words, over and over again, and the power of such simple statements is undeniable. Understanding the lives of transgender children is impossible without having a front seat. Although this book is a far cry from a front seat, it's a valuable peek inside their world. That peek has helped me become a better mother to my own children--and a better human, in general.
This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs.
Gender Dysphoria, Family, Bullying
What I Loved:
- One of the most important things a book needs to do to really draw me in is to make me feel…something. It doesn’t have to be positive all the time, but I have to become emotionally involved with the story and characters in some way. This Is How It Always Is had me feeling a full range of emotions. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times.
- While this story obviously centers around Claude and his struggle with gender dysphoria, it’s also very much a story about an unconventional and complicated family. Frankel explores the family dynamics, the impacts of Claude’s struggle on each sibling and both parents, and the more run-of-the-mill struggles of a family (work/life balance, teen angst, sibling disagreements, etc) and how Claude fits into that.
- While gender dysphoria is a weighty issue and many people have not personally experienced, the Walsh-Adams family as a whole is incredibly relatable. Rosie (the mother) is someone I could imagine being friends with and the family’s reactions to and decision-making involving Claude felt decidedly normal to me.
- In addition to handling the “big” issues and decisions relating to Claude’s gender dysphoria, Frankel poignantly works through the small moments that become minefields when you’re dealing with someone like Claude (i.e. meeting your new neighbors, the first sleepover).
- The writing isn’t what I’d call “gorgeous,” but I loved the voice and tone. I felt like I was hearing my relatable friend talk about family life while phrasing things in the most amusing way possible:
"But Roo followed by Ben followed by Rigel and Orion had put a stop to that plan too, children being the enemies of plans and also the enemies of anything new besides themselves."
- Plus, there’s a bad@ss grandmother, a character type that generally adds a little something extra to a story for me!
What I Didn’t Like:
- I’m generally not a fan of stories within stories and one (a fairy tale, in this case) figures prominently into This Is How It Always Is. It makes sense within the larger context and Frankel executed it well, but I personally found it distracting and unnecessary. It felt a little too cutes-y to me.
- I’m getting really nit-picky, but some of the things Claude was doing at age five (i.e. designing and constructing a complicated Halloween costume by himself) seemed like a developmental stretch to me, even though his character is quite precocious. I have a six year old son and he could no more design and construct his own Halloween costume than fly to the moon; however, he could name 25 obscure animals you’ve never heard of. So, maybe this criticism isn’t entirely fair.
A Defining Quote:
"You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up, if with your incomplete, contradictory information you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative."
Good for People Who Like…
Family, unconventional families, secrets / betrayal, marriage, motherhood, emotional gut-wrenchers, debate starters, accessible writing
Other Books You May Like:
A memoir dealing with gender dysphoria - Darling Days by iO Tillett-Wright
Another book centered around a large family with hoards of children - Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Check out my blog, Sarah's Book Shelves, for more reviews.
I chose this book for our book club. We started talking before I could get the wine poured and stayed until after midnight. A first! It was amazing how often this subject had touched our own lives. I guess that's "How It Always Is".