My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
David Piper is a high school student with a big secret. His parents think he is gay, but Piper and his two best friends know that he is actually a girl. Leo on the other hand, is a new student at David’s high school and all he wants is to not draw attention to himself. But, when Alicia, one of the prettiest girls in Year 11 starts flirting with him and when Leo stands up for David one day when he was being bullied, not drawing attention to himself becomes quite an impossible task.
I feel like The Art of Being Normal is a book that should have been published a long time ago and read by many teenagers across the world. It’s not a wildly amazing book or an extremely shocking story but that’s precisely why I feel that it is very important. Written in dual perspectives, we follow Leo and David in a journey that all young people go through in their adolescence. The one of self-discovery and self-acceptance. This is a story taking place in a school with teenagers between the ages of 11 and 15 or 16 years old. In order to avoid giving away any spoiler, I will try to talk about the book in a very generic point of view and only go into detail about parts of the book that are presented from very early on.
I want to be a girl.
Why is this book so important? Well, I think that most people agree that teenagers can be cruel. When someone is different than the norm, that someone becomes a target. This is not a story that has never been told before. From the beginning of the book, we know pretty much how it’s going to end. I mean, it’s a YA contemporary not a mystery book. Still, there is one big surprise that I actually can’t say that I saw it coming. Even though the story was quite predictable and not necessarily something new, the book is quite well written and has an undeniably important message to say to probably the most important age group; young teenagers going through puberty.
Besides who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. “Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.”
And what is normal anyway? These days nothing is normal and at the same time everything is. The family element and school environment in this book play a quite prominent role in The Art of Being Normal. But, I also had a few issues with the story. Lisa Williamson has worked at The Gender Identity Development Service and I believe she has heard numerous stories about what being a transgender teenager means and what this kids go through with their school and families. I’ve done some research on this subject myself, since I’m a curious psychology student, and that’s why I was quite disappointed with the book because it didn’t shock me.
I trace Harry’s eye line. Standing over him is Leo, the kid from Cloverdale School, staring at his fist like it doesn’t belong to him.
This book didn’t punch me in the gut, didn’t make me think “This is so terrible!” Maybe this is just me, but David was being bullied very badly at school and yet I didn’t actually get to experience the horror and the impact of this abuse. I guess I believe it’s important that topics as important and as common as being transgender have to be discussed in a raw manner. Abuse is real and is taking place and most of the times, nobody does something about it. We live in 2016 and today’s teenagers have to be educated and accepting of their transgender peers.
No, the only person who can tell me the truth is long gone.
Apart from my personal issues with this book, I appreciate the message the author was trying to get across and the point of view that she chose to present a very big and important topic from. It was a realistic story, with real-life characters that went through incredibly tough times at such a sensitive age. This book is about friendship, acceptance and being brave to be yourself. I was delighted with the ending that in some way was written “bravely” (if you’ve read the book you know what I’m talking about). Lisa Williamson said in a very straightforward manner that “this is what it is, either accept it or don’t” and I hope and believe that this book has benefited many individuals struggling with abuse, bullying and self-acceptance.
I am a hopeless case. In about a billion different ways.
To conclude, this is a book that won’t appeal to everybody. For some it might be too provocative, too weird, too abnormal. In an ideal society we wouldn’t have to read this book to understand and learn some things about transgender adolescents. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In my opinion, everyone needs to read this book and especially young people. It might not have the best storyline or the most amazing plot but the message is powerful and the characters need to be heard; and I don’t just mean David and Leo, but their mums and dads, friends and sisters.
Have you read The Art of Being Normal or any other books with transgender characters? Let me know what you thought about this book and if you liked another book that discusses the same topic. 🙂
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