Title: The Art of Being Normal
Author: Lisa Williamson
Rating: ★★ 1/2
Synopsis: 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 his class is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long and soon everyone knows that Leo used to be a girl.
As David prepares to come out to his family and transition into life as a girl and Leo wrestles with figuring out how to deal with people who try to define him through his history, they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens as well as the courage to decide for themselves what normal really means.
Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
I am hugely torn on The Art of Being Normal. It was one of my most anticipated reads coming out of last year’s #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast because everything sounded like it would hit all the right notes with me. I love LGBTQIA+ literature and I’ve always been an avid supports of these titles, but something about this novel didn’t work for me.
I do think there are elements of this novel that make it an important read. There’s nothing new in this novel if you’ve read books about trans issues, but it does have so poginent and sweet moments that I did love. I think my main issues came more from the David chapters given that David wants to convey to people that he wants to be a girl and is attempting to push people into referring to him as such. He of course gets called by his “dead name” and it never feels like David is given a chance in the novel to truly transition. I was so sympathic to David throughout the novel, but I struggled with how the author presented David’s transition issues.
Leo, on the other hand, I enjoyed for the most part and I think the depiction of what happens to him worked well for the most part. I could sympathize with Leo, but for very different reasons, especially in regards to his relationship troubles. I think a lot of this novel is presented too simply, and I think it will get overshadowed by titles like If I Was Your Girl where the presentation feels a lot more authentic to both sides of a transition.
I will say as a positive, I did love how Williamson developed the friendship between David and Leo. I thought that was quite splendid and very well written. There was a sweetness to it that I very much enjoyed.
So I am sad. I hyped this book up in my mind as being something larger than it was, and it’s not a bad novel at all. It’s just one that half clicked with me and half didn’t. I think I wanted more out of the story than I got, and I think the resolution of it all didn’t necessarily stick the landing the way I was hoping it would either. I wish there had been more to the characters, and I wish there had been more to the story. Everything just felt too simple, even though the intentions were coming from a very good place.