There are some books which stay with you once you finish them. Some books which burrow inside your brain and your heart and set up camp. Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is is one of those books. Rosie and Penn have five sons and their family is like every other family…until it isn’t. When their youngest son Claude decides that when he grows up he wants to be a girl, things change and the whole family has to fight against the prejudices of their community.
As far as Rosie and Penn are concerned their bright, funny, and wonderful youngest child can be whomever he or she wants to be. So Claude becomes Poppy. In a family full of quirks and eccentricities Claude becoming Poppy is no more different than anything else her brothers have done.
However one disastrous (and frankly terrifying) play date later the family move from Wisconsin where everyone knew Poppy when she was Claude to Seattle where no one knows anything. (A favourite part of mine was how Seattle was chosen: the city is so embracing of everyone that heterosexual couples feel awkward when they hold hands in public.) In Seattle Claude becomes a secret and Poppy flourishes. But this secret starts isn’t necessarily great for her bothers and pretty soon the family have to decide who exactly needs to change – Poppy or the world.
Poppy is the central character of This Is How it Always Is yet the whole family play such a starring role that I fell in love with them all hook, line, and sinker. There were two instances where every single member of the family was in the same place talking to each other – one in the middle and one right at the end – and they were some of my favourite bits. It reminded me of my family when we are all together: people shouting, other people misunderstanding, and someone else completely clueless.
Laurie Frankle’s style of writing was a joy to read. There was never a moment when I was happy my commute in the morning or evening ended while I was reading this book because I really, really, really didn’t want to stop. Some of her sentences were ridiculously beautiful and I particularly loved the scenes between Rosie and Penn – the love and humour and warmth shone through.
However, as wonderful as the characters and writing were, This Is How It Always Is is one of my top picks for 2017 because it got me to question and think about gender roles and self-identification. The only stories about transgender people I have previously read featured them being brutally murdered and secretly hating themselves (maybe transgender characters are becoming the new female murder victim in crime books?). With Poppy I read about a different transgender experience to what I have read before. I read about a whole family’s experiences.
Everyone is always put into boxes. Sometimes we ask for the boxes and don’t mind being in it and a lot of the times we don’t ask for them and do mind. This Is How It Always Is got me to think about not only what I want the world to see when they look at me, but who I want to be so the world can see that.
You know, I don’t think my worlds or my vaguely coherent ramblings can do This Is How It Always Is any justice so I am going to stop while I am still (remotely) ahead. This book is magnificent – read it.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is published by Headline Review and will be available from all good and evil bookshops on the 9th of February 2017.
I was given a free copy via twitter and this has not influenced my opinions or thoughts.