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BOOK REVIEW: ‘This Is How It Always Is’

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The secret life of a transgender child.

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

You must not tell. You cannot breathe a word to anyone who doesn’t already know. That Which Cannot Be Spoken must remain buried, put away, frozen, lips sealed, in the closet. You cannot tell because, as in the new novel This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel, secrets change everything.

In the beginning was Roo-sevelt, known to his loved ones as Roo. Not long after he was born, Ben entered the family. Then the twin boys Orion and Rigel arrived. So Rosie Walsh, still hoping for a girl baby, did everything the Talmud recommended she do next. Months later, she and her husband, Penn, welcomed . . . Claude.

But that was okay. Another boy in their raucous, rowdy family of boys was fine, and Rosie and Penn loved them all. They were happy in their big, rambling, farmhouse just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Rosie loved her job. Penn worked on his novel. And Claude dreamed of being a girl.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel 2017 Flatiron Books (us.macmillan.com) 329 pages $25.99/$26.99 Canada
This Is How It Always Is
by Laurie Frankel
2017
Flatiron Books (us.macmillan.com)
329 pages
$25.99/$26.99 Canada

It started when Rosie told Claude (as most parents do) that he could “be anything” he wanted to be someday. Claude was three years old and loved to dress up; it didn’t seem odd to let him wear dresses at home. But soon, home wasn’t enough, and Claude tantrumed until he was allowed to wear dresses to preschool, though he was told that he’d have to use the nurse’s station bathroom, and that his teacher was “not happy.”

Still, Rosie and Penn were willing to do what it took to make Claude feel secure. While wearing his dresses and pink accessories, he was a confident child; without them, he was sullen and sad. None of his classmates minded his clothing. His brothers never gave it a second thought. Claude was simply Claude—until he asked his parents to call him Poppy.

And that was fine, too. Especially when the family moved to another state where it was easier to keep quiet—
until it wasn’t. Until Poppy started growing up. Then the world became a vicious place, and the secret-keeping couldn’t last forever.

So here’s the thing: once you’ve started reading This Is How It Always Is, you might as well just clear your schedule. Cancel all appointments. You won’t want to do anything but read, so just give in. Blame it on the book.

Part of the appeal, I think, is in the way that author Laurie Frankel writes: no putting on airs, no try-to-impress-you words, nothing uppity. Her characters are normal people with everyday lives who are trying to maintain that normalcy, and Frankel writes like they might talk—with down-to-earth matter-of-factness and a fast dash of humor that wends its way through a serious topic. Even if you’ve read about transgender children before, you’ll find Frankel’s voice to be captivating.

One more thing: be sure to read the author’s after-notes, which brings the novel full-circle and will make you smile. But don’t peek; instead, start This Is How It Always Is from the beginning and savor it properly. This enjoyable read will make you want to tell everyone.

More books:

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A community of Indian-Americans has settled into lives that straddle the divide between Eastern and Western cultures. For some, America is an alienating place where coworkers can’t pronounce your name. Harit, an Indian immigrant in his mid-40s, lives with his mother who can no longer function after the death of Harit’s sister. In an attempt to keep both himself and his mother sane, he dresses up in a sari every night to pass himself off as his sister. Meanwhile, Ranjana has just seen her only child off to college. Worried that her husband has begun an affair, she seeks solace by writing romance novels in secret. When Harit and Ranjana meet, they begin a friendship that brings to light their own passions and fears. Picador (picadorusa.com). Suzie Lynde 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

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This is the story of a young theater actor’s relationship with Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame. Beginning in the late ’70s, Peter Turner recalls his relationship with the hot-tempered Grahame—20-odd years his senior—through sojourns in England, New York, and Los Angeles. When she falls ill and refuses hospital treatment, Turner makes her stay with his family. But her health gets worse. What follows is a bond that celebrates the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Age and brings it down to earth. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Annette Bening. Picador (picadorusa.com). Troy Carrington

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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