Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is is the quick-witted story of a modern day family of seven whose youngest son begins wearing dresses and barrettes, carrying purses, and telling his family that when he grows up he wants to be a girl.
Penn and Rosie are the parents of five rambunctious, intelligent, and free-thinking boys. So when Claude, their youngest, is very clear that he wants to dress like a girl, they let him. It could be just a phase, or it could be something more. But whatever it is, they’ll support him through it.
When Claude begins wearing dresses to school, things get more complicated. Which bathroom should he use, should the teachers use she/her pronouns, does he have a new name? He’s only five, and hasn’t decided what or who he is, so none of these questions have answers. The family lives relatively comfortably in the in between as Claude figures himself out. That is, until he and his family are put in danger by the transphobic father of a childhood friend, and until Rosie attempts and fails to save the life of a transgender college freshman who was beaten and shot when fraternity members at a neighboring university find out she had a penis.
Rosie cannot stand the thought of living in a town where these kinds of things happen, and so she moves the family to Seattle. Claude – now decidedly Poppy – can start life anew and without judgement in this liberal city by the sea. But is it that simple?
This Is How It Always Is tells the story of how much a family can bend to keep one member from breaking, the story of unconditional love and patience and worry, the story of acceptance and bravery and heartbreak and more bravery.
Please take caution while reading This Is How It Always Is if any of the following topics may trigger you:
This Is How It Always Is is nothing short of brilliant. It was entrancing, fast-paced, and utterly magical from the very start. The story touched me deeply and on a very personal level, as my sister is transgender.
Frankel’s writing is so unique, witty, and fun, which I think is very important given the gravity of the novel’s topic. The story could have easily been very sad, but Frankel’s writing transformed it into a perfect balance of light-hearted and serious.
Aside from being fantastically written, the story is extremely interesting. It follows the incredibly difficult decision-making process of two parents who want to support and do right by all of their children. The family dynamic is very modern and unique – Rosie and Penn speak to and treat their children with respect and as if they’re adults. So when Claude comes to them wanting to make such a drastic change in his life, they respect and support his decisions just like they would any of their other children.
Further, the way that Rosie and Penn speak to Claude about his feelings and potentially transitioning is fantastic – how everyone should talk to children about sexuality and individuality. They don’t bullshit him – they tell him how hard it will be but that if this is who he truly is, that it is necessary and will be worth it.
Throughout Claude’s transition to Poppy and the family’s new life in Seattle, Frankel utilizes fairy tales that Penn tells the kids before bed every night to mirrors what’s going on in their lives and to bring home major points of the novel in a whimsical and uncommon way.
This Is How It Always Is is a must read, according to me and Reese Witherspoon – this was her October 2018 book club pick. It will pull on your heartstrings and give you unique insight into the transgender community and the trials of transitioning. It is utterly gorgeous and one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Thank you so much for reading my thoughts on This Is How It Always Is. What did you think? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.