This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel Made Me Feel All the Emotions

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie FrankelFiction
Released January 24, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Flatiron Books)

Headline

This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs.

Plot Summary

When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.

Why I Read It

Susan Perabo, author of the fantastic short story collection Why They Run the Way They Do (my review), tweeted this about This Is How It Always Is:

Major Themes

Gender Dysphoria, Family, Bullying

What I Loved

  • One of the most important things a book needs to do to really draw me in is to make me feel…something. It doesn’t have to be positive all the time, but I have to become emotionally involved with the story and characters in some way. This Is How It Always Is had me feeling a full range of emotions. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times.
  • While this story obviously centers around Claude and his struggle with gender dysphoria, it’s also very much a story about an unconventional and complicated family. Frankel explores the family dynamics, the impacts of Claude’s struggle on each sibling and both parents, and the more run-of-the-mill struggles of a family (work/life balance, teen angst, sibling disagreements, etc) and how Claude fits into that.
  • While gender dysphoria is a weighty issue and many people have not personally experienced, the Walsh-Adams family as a whole is incredibly relatable. Rosie (the mother) is someone I could imagine being friends with and the family’s reactions to and decision-making involving Claude felt decidedly normal to me.
  • In addition to handling the “big” issues and decisions relating to Claude’s gender dysphoria, Frankel poignantly works through the small moments that become minefields when you’re dealing with someone like Claude (i.e. meeting your new neighbors, the first sleepover).
  • The writing isn’t what I’d call “gorgeous,” but I loved the voice and tone. I felt like I was hearing my relatable friend talk about family life while phrasing things in the most amusing way possible. 

But Roo followed by Ben followed by Rigel and Orion had put a stop to that plan too, children being the enemies of plans and also the enemies of anything new besides themselves.

  • Plus, there’s a bad@ss grandmother, a character type that generally adds a little something extra to a story for me!

What I Didn’t Like

  • I’m generally not a fan of stories within stories and one (a fairy tale, in this case) figures prominently into This Is How It Always Is. It makes sense within the larger context and Frankel executed it well, but I personally found it distracting and unnecessary. It felt a little too cutes-y to me.
  • I’m getting really nit-picky, but some of the things Claude was doing at age five (i.e. designing and constructing a complicated Halloween costume by himself) seemed like a developmental stretch to me, even though his character is quite precocious. I have a six year old son and he could no more design and construct his own Halloween costume than fly to the moon; however, he could name 25 obscure animals you’ve never heard of. So, maybe this criticism isn’t entirely fair.

A Defining Quote

You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up, if with your incomplete, contradictory information you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.

Good for People Who Like…

Family, unconventional families, secrets / betrayal, marriage, motherhood, emotional gut-wrenchers, debate starters, accessible writing

Other Books You May Like

A memoir dealing with gender dysphoria:
Darling Days by iO Tillett-Wright

Another book centered around a large family with hoards of children:
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

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22 Comments

  1. I really liked the way the author portrayed Claude/Poppy too. Did you know she has a transgender child herself? I did think the trip to Thailand was a little unnecessary.

    Posted 2.23.17 Reply
    • I did-BUT didn’t while I was reading the book. The whole time I was reading I was wondering how accurate of portrayal this was then I read the Author’s Note at the end. Loved that.

      Posted 2.23.17 Reply
  2. I just started this book last night. I’ve been on a frantic search for a book to connect with. I quit on A Piece of the World and then read 5 or 6 samples before settling on This is How it Always Is. At about 8% in, I already love the voice and tone of this book. I agree that Rosie seems so relatable. Your review makes me want to get back to my book!

    Posted 2.23.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I know, right?! That’s the same thing that initially drew me in. Let me know what you think when you finish!

      Posted 2.23.17 Reply
  3. Angela wrote:

    I’m on my library’s long wait list for this one, and now after reading your review, I really can’t wait to get it!

    Posted 2.23.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I bet that waitlist is super long – with good reason!

      Posted 2.23.17 Reply
  4. Tara wrote:

    I haven’t forgotten about this one; it’s definitely on my list! I have so many March releases to read, and I’m thinking of saving this one for a trip in April. I’m really excited to read it, thanks to you!

    Posted 2.23.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I’m with you on March – how did this one month end up do jam-packed?! I have more books on my list than ever before.

      And this is a good trip book…super easy to read and engaging.

      Posted 2.23.17 Reply
  5. nancy s wrote:

    Last year, I read Becoming Nicole, which is the true story of a set of twins in Maine, one of whom is transgender, and so was excited to learn about this book. In both cases, the thing that struck me was how supportive the families are. I would imagine that’s not always the case and so my favorite quote was from K, the person Rosie works with at the clinic in Thailand: “Buddhist way,” K shrugged. “Last life one thing, this one another, next another. Whatever happen last life to make me like this not my fault. Me, my soul, will be lots of bodies before done, some male, some female, some both. So okay. No one care what is under my pants.”

    Posted 2.23.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Oh – interesting! I haven’t heard of that one. Will have to check that out.

      And I agree – I imagine that’s not always the case.

      Posted 3.1.17 Reply
  6. AmberBug wrote:

    I definitely know what you are talking about when it comes to “feeling” something with a book. I always say that myself… even if it’s not a good feeling… at least it’s a feeling!

    Posted 2.24.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      I agree! I’m more likely to finish a book I’m “hate reading” than something I’m just blah about (in which case, I usually DNF).

      Posted 3.1.17 Reply
  7. Care wrote:

    Sounds like my kind of book.

    Posted 2.24.17 Reply
  8. This sounds so good! It’s really important to me that a book makes me feel something too.

    Posted 2.25.17 Reply
  9. Ahahahaha, oh man, children ARE the enemy of plans. My baby nephew/godson is only five months old, and he is already a vicious enemy of plans, despite his extreme sweetness in most regards. This book sounds lovely.

    Posted 2.26.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha – those enemies get worse when they become toddlers (aka little monsters)!

      Posted 3.1.17 Reply
  10. This one is new to me but looks like one I’d like to read. I agree on the developmental stretch, but who am I to say? At three, Jordan could tell me scientific fact about any dinosaur or shark. It’s all a matter of interest, I guess.

    Posted 2.26.17 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha – sounds like Jordan and my son would be friends! Maybe they’re just not the artsy/engineering types.

      Posted 3.1.17 Reply
  11. MarB wrote:

    This book sounds beautiful. Just selected it as my book club pick – thanks for the recommendation!

    Posted 5.3.17 Reply
  12. MHaley wrote:

    Hi Sarah,

    Looks like a great list! I clicked the link to read more on your comments on Adnan and the link led to This Is How It Always Is. just wondering if you have your complete review on Adnan? I too enjoyed the podcast on Serial.

    Posted 5.27.17 Reply

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