My friend Ms M and I often laugh about how we sometimes choose a book based solely on its cover. We know we shouldn’t and yet we do. Clearly the pair us are susceptible to good marketing techniques, but on occasion it can lead us in just the right direction, toward a lovely and unexpected surprise. Indeed the first surprise of my summer has been reading This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel.
About a year ago Child Number Two asked me how many transgender friends I had when I was at school. Given that I completed school in England in 1991 the answer was zero. I explained to him that, in my era, people seldom came out until university and that the world was a very different and far more judgemental place than liberal California in 2019. It was one of those parenting moments that granted me the opportunity to reflect on my own past, remembering people who I had not thought about in years. The school I went to was all girls and although I didn’t board, about twenty percent of the girls did. Surely in that mix there must have been something more than straight girls, craving an opportunity to come out? Was it really such an unfriendly environment or were the 90s simply not a place for such admissions, with the thought of anyone being anything other than straight whilst at school largely unthinkable? I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m just saying it didn’t get shared.
Child Number Two, at the tender age of twelve, has a number of gay friends and two who are openly transgender. That we live in a time where this is possible – where anyone can be anything – makes my heart sing. Reading This Is How It Always Is only helps to consolidate this feeling. That such a beautiful book can tackle this subject matter and become a bestseller shows how the world is changing for the better.
Rosie and Penn meet, fall in love and share a wonderful love story. She is a doctor, the breadwinner and he a writer and househusband. Together they have five children, all boys. From a very young age their youngest son Claude fails to conform to gender stereotypes. He likes to wear a swimsuit instead of trunks, dresses instead of pants and carries a purse rather than a lunchbox. He wants to grow his hair long and be a girl, yet life in Wisconsin doesn’t permit such variations from the norm, so Rosie and Penn move to Seattle where Claude is free to be Poppy.
Despite Penn’s predilection for fairy tales, this story isn’t one. What it is, is something far better. A thought provoking tale of what it takes to raise a transgender child in modern America. How wanting to do the right thing foreshadows a near impossible moral and medical minefield for all those involved. It wasn’t until I reached the authors note at the end, that I realized Frankel herself is a mother of a little girl who was born a boy. It’s a note well worth reading, thoughtful and beautifully put together.
This book is definitely not a quick summer read, but rather a book that you will enjoy and spend a great deal of time thinking about. It’s a must read for modern times.