Monday, June 19, 2017

Fate skips a beat and it scares you to death: THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS.

This Is How It Always IsThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Rosie and Penn are a bit of an amazing love story. They both knew they'd fall in love before they even met. Now they have five rambunctious kids, a farmhouse in Wisconsin, and a crazy, wonderful life. Things get a little more complicated, however, when their youngest son, Claude, starts wanting to wear a dress to preschool. Claude wants long hair with barrettes. Claude wants to be a princess when he grows up. Rosie and Penn are supportive of Claude: they just want their children to be happy, after all. But they soon realize Claude isn't just going through a phase. Claude has gender dysphoria, and their son wants to become a little girl named Poppy. The family is willing to support Poppy, but Rosie and Penn make the decision to do so in secret. But secrets don't stay kept forever.

This is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and beautiful book. It's filled with endearing characters, and I will certainly be recommending it to many people. I had a few issues with some of the realism aspects (more on that below), but I loved its details about raising children (of all kinds) and its humor. Penn, Rosie, and their kids are real.

Woven and embedded throughout this novel is a fairytale that Penn tells his children--starting with when his first boys were babies--and in some ways, the novel itself has its own fairytale moments. Frankel mentions that she does have a child who used to be a little boy and is now a little girl, but the story is not about her daughter. It is, she writes, "an act of imagination, an exercise in wish fulfillment." Still, you can imagine her as a supportive parent. That's certainly not everyone's experience. Does that mean everyone has to write a novel where the child's parents throw them out and society shames them? No. Would I have liked to have a seen a little more of a realistic take on how Poppy and her parents would deal with her secret and how those around her would take it? Maybe. It's not that the family doesn't have hardship, because they do, and Frankel does a good job showing that it takes a bit of a toll on her clan of brothers, as well. But--and I don't want to go into too much, as I don't want to give spoilers--I felt the resolution to the story was a bit pat. Much like Penn's fairytales, it seems to allow things to just wrap up quickly easily. So that was a little problematic for me. But, I didn't feel as irritated after reading Frankel's afterword, because I realize that this novel--for her--is indeed an "exercise in wish fulfillment." This is what she wants in the world. I won't lie: it's what I wish for as well. And perhaps reading novels like this, featuring a wonderful, precocious little boy who can become a wonderful, beautiful, mostly accepted little girl, is a great first step.

The novel is intricate and very detailed, though quite well-written. It's heartbreaking in Penn and Rosie's realization that Claude wants to be a girl and what that will mean for him and the family. They only want for their children to be happy. Frankel does an excellent job at portraying how adults and children can see the world so differently--in terms of gender and much more. As a parent, I often found myself wondering about what I'd do in their situation: it's a book that gets you thinking, for sure. In the end, I loved the family very much and was quite invested in their happiness. Again, another reason why I would have liked a slightly more developed ending after having gone through so much with them.

Still, this is a lovely, timely book. No matter some of the issues I had, I still enjoyed it and certainly recommend it.

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