The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

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Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 353
Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Opening Line:

“One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my class was told to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up.”

I began reading this whilst revising for my gender and sexuality exam. By reading it, I was trying to find something that would put me in the right frame of mind for thinking critically about gender as a reader, and to gain some reading pleasure out of it. This book was perfect for that.

One of my favourite structures in books is when there are two main characters and the chapters alternate between perspectives. This book does that, and does it effectively. We are presented with two characters: David and Leo. David was assigned male at birth, but his gender is female. Early on in the book, we are with him as he is going through the ritual of monitoring his developments entering into puberty. I liked his character from the start, and could relate to him not so much from a transgender perspective, but from a coming out perspective. His parents don’t know that he wants to be a girl. Only his closest friend’s know the ins and outs of what he is going through.

Leo seems like the complete opposite of David, both in personality and life. Where David has a seemingly ideal family in a big home, Leo doesn’t know his father and doesn’t get along well with his mother. He lives in a less pleasant area than David, but still finds comfort and solace away from everyone by going to an abandoned, run-down swimming pool. His need to get away from everyone is reflected in wanting to be invisible. This is hard to achieve, however, when he starts at the same school as David, for apparently being expelled from his previous one, and is immediately the center of attention, and the subject of much gossip.

An unlikely friendship forms between the two boys, and I like unlikely friendships in books.

I devoured this book, I loved David and Leo, and I love the story that unfolded for them and between them. It was heartwarming, and has given me a greater understanding of transgender people. This book really does help, but the emphasis is not entirely on the transgender issues, it’s about the friendship. About two people who live completely different lives, in different areas, but they come together and for all their differences, they are a perfect match (at least that’s what I think!)

I recently went to an event as part of the ‘This is Who I Am’ Tour, and I met Lisa Williamson and got my copy of the book signed!

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I said that it was cool to find out she was from Nottingham, and then she told me that Eden Park and Cloverdale are based on West Bridgeford and The Meadows respectively. I can completely understand this divide. All I associate with West Bridgeford is expense. It is expensive to live there. And The Meadows? I’ve never been and I don’t really want to go there.

Also, at this event there was a transgender male who was wearing a t-shirt that said: ‘Why have gender roles when you can have sushi rolls?’ He said that he had recommended to his teachers at school that they read this book to help them understand more about young transgender people. The teachers have all read the book and are helping him with getting through school. I found this really inspiring, but wasn’t surprised. If I ever wanted somebody to understand transgender issues, I would recommend they read this book.

Link to the book on Goodreads:

The Art of Being Normal

 

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