Title: This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Book Beginnings quote:
Once upon a time, Claude was born but first, Roo was born. Roosevelt Walsh-Adams.
Claude's picture was of the whole family, and Penn could not decide if it was wonderful or alarming that, assigned to draw himself, Claude drew them all...In front of them [his parents and grandmother], sitting criss-cross-applesauce all in a row in the grass, were five brothers...And small in the corner -- because he's run out of room? because he got lost in an overlarge family? because he felt insignificant in the face of the vastness of the universe? -- Claude had drawn himself in his tea-length dress with ruby slippers and wavy brown hair down to the ground...
Summary: Claude is the youngest of five brothers. He loves peanut butter sandwiches, playing dress-up, and when he grows up he wants to be a girl. His parents, Rosie and Penn, want him to be whatever he wants to be but mainly they want Claude to be happy. But keeping secrets is hard on families. One day everything seems to blow up. Will the family be able to put all the pieces together again?
Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever (Publisher).
Review: Back in 2017 one of my two book clubs selected to read and discuss This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Later that year I added it as one of my favorite book club selections of 2017 but oddly this year I only remembered few details, only the outline of the book. When my second club selected it this year I decided I'd better re-read it so I can participate in the discussion in a meaningful way. I am so glad I did, having forgotten enough of the story to make it feel fresh and new to me. My family and I listened to the audiobook when we were on a recent car trip. The trip started with my husband and I, then we added my sister who had to jump in mid-stream after a quick synopsis. Later we added my daughter who needed an even bigger synopsis but soon all four of us were together, hanging on every word.
As you can tell by the summary, and likely you know in person, keeping secrets can only last for a short time and often end in a disaster when revealed. That is what happened with the Walsh-Adams family when they tried to keep the secret that Claude (Poppy) wasn't born a girl. When it seems that the whole family is going to be torn apart at the seams, a trip to Thailand by Claude and his mother, Rosie, finally provides a perspective they couldn't get in the US. It also tended the internal wounds of fear and uncertainty giving the salve they needed to begin the healing process. The book doesn't take Poppy (Claude) through puberty, but the reader is left with the recognition that it is a process one cannot avoid and one which can now be considered.
The book is powerful and timely in its message. Frankel, who has a transgender child, knows what she is talking about and doesn't write about the spectacle of being 'trans' or raising a child who is gender fluid. She writes about the challenges of raising children and the worry that all parents experience, wanting their children to ultimately be happy and successful. Isn't this the same for all parents, for every family? Isn't this how it always is?
I look forward to the book club discussion later this month. This Is How It Always Is will give us a lot to chew on.
SOTH Book Club, September 2021