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This Is How It Always Is: 09/09/17

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is the story of a transgender child and per the afterword is inspired by the author's own experiences as a parent of a transgender child.

The novel opens with a mother in labor with her last child. She has all sons and desperately wants a daughter, whom she plans to name Poppy. When her child is born and is assigned male at birth she and her husband name them Claude.

Claude though pretty quickly turns out to be nothing like their other child. Their sons are boisterous, rude, and fascinated by disgusting things. Claude meanwhile like fairytales, excels at language and in my own mother's parlance, is an "old soul."

Claude also decides they want to be called Poppy, knowing full well that would have been their name had they been assigned female instead. Poppy's decision to change names and general appearance (growing out their hair and wearing dresses or feminine things even when wearing jeans and t-shirts) isn't as cut and dry as in other novels I've read where the child is transgender and the adults in their life either doesn't know or is transphobic.

Given the set up with the mother being so adamant that she wanted a daughter named Poppy, I would think that her acceptance of the name change would be nearly instantaneous. That she in her narration continues to call her child Claude for nearly two-thirds of the book seems odd.

Of course there are outside pressure — the school especially that expects a cut and dry transition from boy to girl or girl to boy. Non-binary or gender queer or anything else is something they've not written a policy for and therefore don't know how to support Poppy.

Just as George by Alex Gino uses Charlotte's Web as a metaphor for Melissa's transformation, This Is How It Always Is has an on-going fairytale about a princess that the father tells (and later sells to a publisher) to cover what Poppy and their family are going through.

This fairytale metaphor though gives the entire novel a detached and somewhat dreamy feel to it. Despite being inspired by actual people the story seems to lack an emotional attachment. The brothers are loud and crude to be in opposition to Poppy. The father, though a quiet, artsy person, never seems to stand up for Poppy with their siblings to make the point that he, their father, isn't like them — that boys don't have to be dirty and rowdy to be boys. The mother too doesn't seem to know what to do even though she's raised so many children and is well educated and is a doctor. And it's not just Poppy — she's detached from all her children.

The short version is, it's an odd book. It does cover the steps a family would go through to support their transgender child. But the family never really seems like the tightly knit group that would go through all the steps as they do.

Three stars

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