This Is How It Always Is
This week, Literally had our book club meeting (over Zoom, of course) to discuss our May book, This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. To say this book is a joy to read is, well, an understatement. It's a fantastic book about parenting, love, family, and the bravery of transgender and gender non-conforming children.
This Is How It Always Is follows Midwestern parents Rosie and Penn, a doctor and a writer, respectively, who have 5 children - all boys. All boys, that is, until at age five, their youngest child, five-year-old Claude, tells his parents he wants to be a girl. Rosie, who had longed for a little girl after giving birth to four healthy boys, doesn't quite know how to handle the situation other than to support her child. Dresses are purchased, hair is grown out, and suddenly, Claude is Poppy.
The family pulls up their roots and moves across the country to the LGBTQIA+-friendlier Seattle, Washington, in order to give Poppy a fresh start. This cross-country move turns into a secret-keeping mission, and rather than celebrate Poppy's transgender identity, it's kept hidden away, and Poppy's new friends, her classmates and teachers are none the wiser. The secret grows more difficult to contain by the day, and finally, one day, everyone knows.
Rosie and Penn must grapple with making potentially life-altering decisions on their child's behalf, writing their own playbook on raising a transgender child. Relying on a quirky yet beloved therapist to guide them along their journey, Rosie and Penn must navigate the world of planning for hormone therapy, deciding the best way to change pajamas discreetly at a sleepover, and how to keep the other children and parents from ostracizing their child, all the while supporting Poppy in being who she knows she is - a girl.
This Is How It Is is a lyrically written, heartbreaking and beautiful story, and was inspired by the author's own family. Frankel's youngest child, born a boy, began requesting to wear dresses at the age of six, and now identifies as a girl. That's where the similarities stop, and the story of Rosie, Penn and Claude is totally fictionalized. But Frankel hopes that readers will understand that "this family is like all families: They love and they keep secrets from one another and they protect one another and they struggle with how to do that and they have these challenges. And it's hard, but it isn't scary and it isn't abnormal at all (NPR)."
I absolutely loved this book, and hope you'll give it a read! One of our Literally members also recommended a podcast, How To Be a Girl, which was created by the mom of a transgender child. Their story is very similar to the experiences of Claude, Rosie and Penn, but it's so interesting to hear the real-life questions and answers arise, and to understand the bravery of parents of transgender children in real life. I've been listening to it all day and am enthralled.
Next week I'll announce our June book - stay tuned! In the meantime, happy reading!
Cover image from NPR.