Book review: This Is How It Always Is

Dear friends,

I read a lot.  I don’t review everything I read – only the good ones, the ones I’d recommend to you.

I recommend this one:

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This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel, is a story about family and acceptance.  We meet a couple named Rosie and Penn, who have been raising four rough-and-tumble boys when they have a fifth boy, whom they name Claude.

When he is very small, Claude tells his family that he’s really a girl.

When he’s little, his parents allow him to play with dolls and wear girly things, reasoning that there’s no harm in it.  When it comes time for him to go to school, though, they want to protect him, so they tell him he must wear “school clothes” (boy clothes), and that he must censor what he does and says around his teacher and classmates.

The story centers around the burden of this “family secret,” as his parents and brothers constantly worry about Claude, and about themselves.  What if he gets “outed?”  Should they move to a new town where they can start over, and Claude can just present himself as a girl from day one?  And what will happen when puberty comes – will they drug this child with hormone inhibitors?  Arrange for surgery?  Wait until adulthood, to let him/her decide?

Rosie and Penn worry about being fair to their other children, about “managing” this secret so it doesn’t disrupt their lives, and about the stigmas Claude will face throughout his/her life.  Are they locked into thinking in terms of binaries (male/female, right/wrong), or is there some kind of “middle way” to live in the world?

For me, this book was a page-turner.  The members of this family felt real to me, and their dilemma touched my heart.  The story is “deep” without being too heavy, and raised all kinds of interesting questions.  In the end, it’s a story about a family learning to live with each other, and to live in the world, with compassion and grace.

Happy reading,

Winnie and the Professor

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