This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is a conscientious exploration of gender dysphoria, navigating the subject matter with sensitivity and honesty. At times heartbreaking and at other times uplifting, Frankel has written candidly about an incredibly important topic.
The story follows an American family (Rosie and Penn plus their four sons and one daughter) who are keeping a secret. The secret is that their daughter, Poppy, was once their son, Claude.
One of the best things about This Is How It Always Is is that it constantly questions normativity and opens up conversations about gender and sexuality without shying away from the subject. The book covers lots of varied perspectives and opinions which is important when generating thoughtful discussion around a topic that not every reader has personal experience with.
It’s important to note that This Is How It Always Is is not technically an ‘own voices’ book. Frankel herself is not transgender, non-binary or gender fluid. However, she does have personal experience being in a family where a member has gender dysphoria and has obviously drawn on those experiences when writing.
Those looking to read an ‘own voices’ book with a closer perspective about what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria would probably be disappointed. This Is How It Always Is is more about the experience of the family as a whole from the perspectives of Rosie and Penn; it’s about how people are treated, how secrets are kept and how people can get hurt (and how they can heal).
Frankel’s writing itself is easily accessible yet richly woven with metaphor and fairy-tale in a wonderfully balanced book. Its social agenda is openly addressed in character dialogue and simultaneously explored through literary devices. The metafictional fairy-tale, the love story of Rosie and Penn, and the subplots of each family member are clever ways to subvert normativity and traditional gender roles.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is undoubtedly an important story for our current times. That’s not to say that the book itself is perfect or that it accurately portrays the experiences of non-binary individuals in an ‘own voices’ sense. But what it does do is create discussion, which is where acceptance starts.
Kyra Thomsen is a writer from Wollongong, NSW. She was Deputy Editor of Writer’s Edit until 2017 and her work has been published in Kindling, Seizure, Space Place & Culture, Mascara and more. You can find more at kyrathomsen.com or on Twitter/Instagram with @KyraThomsen.