“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 a
re about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…”
I read “The Art of Being Normal” by Lisa Williamson this week in preparation for YALC as she is going to be in attendance this year. She was there last year but I unfortunately just missed her so I can’t wait to meet her this summer! My review is written in two parts: first without spoilers if you haven’t read it yet, and then in full spoilery discussion if you have and are bursting with thoughts and feelings like I am!
THIS BOOK. Oh my god. Where to begin?
This amazing story was one which NEEDED to be told. Not only is it the first YA book that I have read with transgender representation but it’s also NOT SOLELY about that, which is awesome. The two central characters in this book are David, a fourteen year old boy who longs to be a girl and is terrified of telling his parents, and Leo, a boy in the year above him who has just moved to David’s school under unknown circumstances. The two boys come from very different walks of life with David living in a posh part of town and a very stable home whereas Leo lives in a rougher part of the city and his family life is turbulent, at best.
David’s internal monologue as he struggles with his biological identity working against who he knows he is is heartbreaking to read.
“When I was eight my class was asked to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.”
“I kind of got that feeling you sometimes get after an exam, when you come out and at first you’re feeling pretty confident but then everyone starts discussing their answers and it dawns on you that you’ve totally messed up”
“I wrote I wanted to be a girl”
It’s such a wonderfully written book and it captures all of the emotions of these two characters who are just going through so much so well. Even though it’s difficult as a reader to relate to the issues the boys are going through, because they are not issues I have ever faced, it is so easy to understand their pain and feelings and it HURTS. Never in my life did I think I would feel sympathy for a character who wants to have a period because – like most females, I imagine – I see them as a pain in the ass. But somehow, I was devastated on his behalf because of it.
“All I can think about is how I’ll never experience what Livvy’s experiencing tonight, It’s a biological impossibility so unfair it makes my entire body throb”
Watching their stories intertwine, its lovely to see Leo’s confusion at David’s quirks and David’s eagerness to figure Leo out. Their friendship was one of my favourite parts of this book, though it’s too tough to choose a definitive favourite part because a) there are too many, I love everything and b) SPOILERS!
I think that’s probably the point at which I must conclude my spoiler free review because if I go on any further, my feels are going to burst out of me and spoilers will occur.
I would rate this book five stars, it was wonderful and everyone needs to read it!
You can follow Lisa Williamson on Twitter here. “The Art of Being Normal” is shortlisted for the YA book prize and this week is #TeamWilliamson week. There was a twitter chat this Tuesday with Lisa Williamson which you can find here. It was great fun and she answered loads of questions about The Art of Being Normal so it should make for some fun reading.
I’m going to jump right in and address the plot twist right now. Who saw that coming? I sure as hell didn’t, the thought didn’t even occur to me because Leo is so unquestionably a boy. I really appreciated the fact that we didn’t find out about the Megan secret until so far through the book. In the #TeamWilliamson chat, Lisa Williamson said that initially, when this was just David’s story, the reader found out much earlier in the book but I’m so glad that this was changed. I think it beautifully reinforced the message that it is not obvious from an outside point of view if somebody is not their birth gender and that is OKAY. It’s a message that society as a whole definitely needs. To find it in a young adult novel, particularly one with younger YA protagonists is so remarkable because it’s accessible to younger readers as well.
David going out as Kate on that trip to Tripton-on Sea made me so uncontrollably happy and I had some outfit jealously, I love a shirt dress. As Leo commented, Kate’s immediate increase in confidence was so heart warming, I was sat grinning at my book like a total spanner. Their whole trip was fantastic, I was living vicariously through their fun. Well, except for that bit where Leo’s dad was a douchebag, but let’s not talk about that.
The moment when David placed that scrapbook on the table gave me some intense butterflies, my heart was in my stomach because I was so nervous about what was going to happen.
“It’s only an hour before I hear the knock at the door, but it feels like days. And even though I’ve been expecting to hear it, it still makes me jump”
I really liked the reactions of David’s parents, even though everybody wants to see them 100% accept and be okay with it and say “we always knew”, taking it really easily, it would have been a betrayal to the story if it had gone this simply.
“Your mum and I love you very much. We always have and we always will. But we also need a bit of time to digest this, OK?”
This isn’t the kind of news parents are going to immediately be totally cool with, the situation can’t be sugar coated. Their tentative acceptance and support of David had relief surging through me and even though it hurt, seeing their small signs of stress, confusion and sadness over his circumstances, their hesitation felt right. In the midst of all this I had to take a pause for a minute because without a doubt, my funniest moment of the book came next when David and his parents are getting emotional and then:
“Noisy crying must be genetic because we’re so loud Livvy comes barging in assuming Granny must have died. Mum whisks her out of the room, reassuring her Granny is very much alive.”
I don’t know why but the pause from the emotional stuff even for just this line made it so much more impactful, also that gem of a line, it’s hysterical.
I found it really interesting to consider that Leo had managed to sum up the confidence to tell his family before David did. Fair enough, Leo is older than David but David is in a position where he appears to have the more obvious support system in place than Leo does because his relationship with his mother and her revolving door of boyfriends is so strained. Meanwhile David is a lot closer with his parents despite feeling like an outsider, though this may mean that he feels he has more to lose should they not accept him, whereas Leo feels like he has less going for him? I don’t know it was just something I was thinking about.
- Tia endlessly watching Disney movies was so great, she didn’t care what was going on (unless Leo was sad) she just wanted to watch Tangled dammit!
- Maybe I’m the only one but I pictured Spike as James Marsters in Buffy, dark hair aside!
- Livvy appearing at the disco at the end made me really happy, I mean it obviously sucked that she had a fight with her friends but the exchange her and David had when he goes over to talk to her gave me the warm fuzzies.
I think that concludes my thoughts on the book! If you’ve read it, please leave me a comment either linking me to your review or telling me how you felt about it! I hope you loved it as much as I did.