Every once in a while, you read a book that changes your life...that forces your empathy to grow, challenges the things you were certain of, and makes you question how you'd respond.
This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel, is one of those books.
"This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.
This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.
Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes."
But what would you do in that situation? Is everything as it seems?
The story of Rosie and Penn caused me pause. In the chaos and turmoil of an airport, I sat transfixed. Rosie and Penn were the perfect parents--ones who didn't fight their child's desire to be a girl, who consulted therapists and allowed their child to be whoever she said she was...but even perfect can be too perfect.
What happens when you raise your child like a girl so well that no one knows otherwise, and the secret explodes? Is it your fault for hiding it or did you do a flawless parenting job by making the transition as seamless as possible? What happens when you have other children, who are protective of their sibling and sensitive to a world that calls people by derogatory nicknames for being homosexual or transitioning?
And what do you do as a parent when that situation arises? When your child is still a child...and their identity may develop further as time goes on?
What caught my breath (and still does!) about this book was the realistic problems and joys any family faces when adjusting to a child's gender identity. The book covers things like Claude (now called Poppy) going to a public place in a dress and facing backlash. How the family responds when Poppy goes to her first sleepover with a group of girls and has to change in the bathroom. The anxiety that parents naturally have about their child being discovered to be different. And about the way siblings react to these changes.
The characters are so realistic, I thought I could pull them off the street and put them in my house. I laughed out loud at the dialogue, which skillfully lifts heavy moments into humor. Laurie Frankel manages to make each character individualized, and raw as they grow through the years and face the obstacles and happiness that life hands them in this unique situation. Everything from childhood silliness, to teenage angst, was captured so accurately and naturally...her writing style and nuance took my breath away. Each sibling of Poppy's has their personality clearly defined...Rosie and Penn have very different thinking methodologies, both of which are relatable. Rosie is a doctor--medical concerns factor into this story plenty. Penn is a writer with a creative soul and empathy to boot--and how he handles his child's transition is with the open acceptance of a hippie. And sometimes...those clash.
There were so many questions raised by this story. About what I'd do in that situation. Whether there was a right answer beyond letting your child grow to be what they are. Whether there was a perfect response. How I'd tell people about my child...and whether I had to!
To read a book like this is once in a lifetime. It's the type of story that has you struck into silence when you flip the last page and it makes you reflect in the days afterward. It's been a month since I read this book...and I think about it every single day.