The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
|The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Stunning dual narrative story is hugely powerful, and explores gender identity issues with wonderful characters and a hopeful ending.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 360||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: David Fickling Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016: Older Fiction
Fourteen-year-old David has always known that he is a transgender girl. (Note: As David uses male pronouns in his internal dialogue I have continued to do so in my review.) However David has chosen a new girl's name and collects feminine clothes to express that inner self. This is a secret kept from everyone except his best friends Essie and Felix. When Leo Denton, who also has a secret, moves to David's school Eden Park from the rougher Cloverdale, the worlds of the two collide.
Oh, my heart! This is one that I read three months or so ago and have been struggling to review ever since, partly because of my usual concern about spoilers and partly because this is genuinely so wonderful that anything I can say about it is unlikely to come close to being the praise it deserves. It has two of the most sympathetic narrators for ages, a really strong array of supporting characters - I especially liked Essie and Felix because they were so supportive of David, but Alicia, the classmate who Leo develops feelings for, was also vividly portrayed, while I thought both of the lead characters' relationships with their families were superb. Despite struggling to write a semi-coherent review, I've spent a lot of time raving about it to anyone who'll listen - it's probably overtaken Sara Crowe's outstanding debut Bone Jack as my most recommended book of recent months.
It's also heartbreaking at times but ultimately hopeful and uplifting; I really appreciated that the ending was - without sugar-coating things to an unrealistic degree - a generally happy one. I think that for youngsters reading this who may find themselves questioning their assigned gender identity it's hugely important to have that hope in the climax of the book, and Lisa Williamson definitely delivers this.
An outstanding read which is up there with The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell as the best contemporary I've read for a long, long time, as well as being a hugely important book which I'd love everybody to read.
As mentioned above, my other favourite contemporary of the coming year is The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. If you want to read more books with wonderful portrayals of LGBT+ characters, I'd highly recommend Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.
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