Written by: Lisa Williamson
Published: May 31, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth: David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal: to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long , and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.
As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.
*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This fact has not change my opinion. ***
I'm not a huge contemporary reader. It probably only makes up about 10% of my annual reads. But I do love a good coming of age story and lately that has meant enjoying more and more contemporaries. The Art of Being Normal is one that I liked a lot more than I expected.
For one thing, it is an interesting story about identity. That's one of the things that I love about YA contemporaries because the teenage years are so important to figuring out who you are as a person. I thought that The Art of Being Normal brilliantly walked that line between wanting to be accepted and loved, and wanting to be who you are. It's a very modern and complex story about two teenagers coming to terms with who they are inside and reflecting that to those around them despite some terrible consequences for their honesty. This is a common theme with a lot of YA novels but here it is was even more heightened because this is about transgender teenagers.
The book alternates perspectives between two transgender youths who are struggling with coming out and the consequences that would have. Things are definitely not easy for either characters and there were some tough moments to read as the characters dealt with bullying and worse. First there is David, who while he identifies as trans, hasn't told anyone except his two best friends and is reluctant to take things to the next level. His struggle throughout the book of taking the leap was interesting and encouraging. Then there is Leo who was born a girl but is living as a boy. His history is a little less encouraging. It has been a tough road for him and I definitely empathized with his struggle. And while each of them had great and supportive people around them they also had toxic and not supportive people around them. Seeing them figure out who was who and being surprised by the acceptance they received from people was another fantastic element of the book.
I've read some reviews that say that this book is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trans issues and I think that makes sense. I would not be able to speak for the trans community, as a cis woman, but I do think that this books is an interesting look into an often not talked about subject matter and it makes me think a lot about the struggle both internally and externally for trans teens. You are able to connect with the characters and see the struggle both internally and externally that they may have to go through. If you are looking for different kind of LGBTQIA story that will make you think then check this book out.
But one thing I didn't love about this book was the pacing. Or maybe it was the plot development. Or maybe the problem was the synopsis. I don't know. I just know that there was a lot of dramatic irony, especially when it came to Leo. I wouldn't want to rush a person's coming out but as a reader we know that he is transgender and even when we have the book from his perspective, it's not mentioning that. The struggle for him to tell people and come clean is totally valid but from the standpoint of the reader it was frustrating. I would have rather that point not be part of the synopsis or Leo at least recognize it. I get that maybe he wouldn't want to in order to move on with his life but it got to a point where I wasn't able to make an emotional connection with the character because I was waiting for that to be stated.
On the whole, The Art of Being Normal was a quick and interesting contemporary that made me think. It is a complex coming of age story about transgender teens and more than that it's about teenagers figuring out who they are and finding a support system of people who will accept them no matter what.
I give The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson 8.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read The Art of Being Normal? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!