the art of being normal review

The Art of Being Normal is a YA novel about two teenagers who attempt to navigate high school, crushes, and the inevitable difficulty that comes of being trans.

Two boys. Two secrets. 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 year 11 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 …

Kate and Leo are both trans, but they are drawn from very different material. They are at different stages of transition and coming out, and their individual lives also clearly affect how they react to bullying, ‘helpful’ adults, and their families. I found both of them hugely realistic. I know that this is a silly little detail, but I was especially struck by how modern it was. For example, Kate learns how to put on makeup from YouTube. Details like this makes The Art of Being Normal seem far more grounded in reality in comparison to other trans YA novels, such as If I Was Your Girl.

In many ways, this is quite a standard YA novel. Leo easily fits into the stereotype of the dark and brooding stranger (one with an absent father and neglectful mother, to boot). Bullies are the popular, athletic kids. Crushes, parties, and proms abound. I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this aspects very much. But when it came to the discussion of gender identity and the variety of mental health issues that often (unfortunately) are associated with being trans, The Art of Being Normal really does stand out as a particular gem of the genre.

Lisa Williamson is not an own voices author – rather, she was inspired to write The Art of Being Normal after working at the Gender Identity Development Service in London. I thought that her research was good, although I personally would have preferred her to be a trans author. However, I’ve been pretty impressed by her sensitivity in interviews, as well as her understanding of trans issues.

(A note: David is Kate’s birth name. Although she uses David for most of the book, I felt uncomfortable using it in my review.)

 

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8 thoughts on “the art of being normal review

  1. Monika says:

    After a batch of books with trans themes that were problematic (Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, for example) I’ve started to focus on own voices. But it sounds like this one is really worth putting on the TBR list. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

      Yes! I had the same experience with Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Monika! It’s been hard for me to find something that I think really tells a truthful experience and shares more than tropes and stereotypes.

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      • whatthelog says:

        Oh, really? That was on my TBR! What didn’t you like about it, may I ask?
        And I definitely agree about trying to find accurate representations – I like to stick to own voices as well, when possible. Just for the fact that this has two trans protagonists allows Williamson to delve a little bit deeper, though. 🙂

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  2. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    A well-written review, Wendy! This isn’t a book I’ve heard of, but it sounds really interesting. I don’t have a lot of experience with trans characters in books right now, and I’m trying to find more. I am really struggling to understand what the trans community is experiencing and how I, as a cis woman, can best understand them. Do you have any other similar books you’d recommend?

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    • whatthelog says:

      Thanks!
      Well, the only other YA novel that I’ve read that features a trans protagonist is If I Was Your Girl, which I’ve also written about on here. If you’re interested in trans characters I would maybe give that a go – I was enjoying it quite a lot, until it got a bit biphobic :/

      Other than that, I’ve also read George by Alex Gino, which is a middle grade book about gender identity that I just love. But obviously it doesn’t go too in depth, due to the age group. If you’re interested in feminism or LGBT+ theory, I would also recommend Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. This is non-fiction, but it gives a lot of really great information about trans experiences, as well as challenging non-intersectional feminism.

      (Btw, I am not trans myself, just trying to educate myself about LGBT+ books/issues 🙂 )

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