This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

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This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Moving story - inspired by the author's own experience - of an American family with a gender dysphoric child. Should Poppy's parents be gender-affirmative? Gender-critical? Or should they watch and wait? Difficult questions, no easy answers and a child to love and protect. Told with grace.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2017
Publisher: Headline
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1472241584

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Claude is the baby of the family. He's very bright. He has a vocabulary way beyond his years so he can hold his own in the rough and tumble of a house containing four older brothers, an emergency doctor mother and a writer father. Claude also likes to wear dresses. He wants to become a night fairy when he grows up. And one day, Claude becomes Poppy. He becomes she. Poppy's parents, Penn and Rosie, aren't too concerned at first - children all like to try on different identities and why should Claude/Poppy be any different? But it soon becomes clear that Poppy isn't play-acting at being a girl. Poppy is a girl. And things get complicated...

This Is How It Always Is is a truly lovely read. I was absorbed from the beginning and I really felt quite bereft when I got to the last page. I'd have happily carried on reading about Poppy and her family for weeks. Penn and Rosie have created warm and loving familial bonds and are committed to each other and their children. They understand that their children aren't extensions of themselves but human beings in their own right and they are accepting of each child as an individual. If ever there was a family to cope well with a gender dysphoric child, it's this one. So, when even Penn and Rosie can't see a clear path ahead, we, as readers, get a very clear understanding of the dilemmas and ethical conundrums gender dysphoria brings.

The book weaves in all of these quandaries - should Penn and Rosie encourage Poppy's identity as a girl? Should they discourage it? Should they watch and wait? What if Poppy changes her mind and wants to become Claude again? What about medical intervention? Good? Bad? Something to delay? Should they tell other people? Should they keep it a secret? What if the secret is found out? What then? How do they deal with transphobia? Should they move to a new city so that Poppy will be immediately understood as a girl by everyone she meets? But what about their other children? Why should they have to start again?

And on, and on, and on, it goes.

On occasion, in Frankel's desire to cover every aspect of gender dysphoria in children, the narrative becomes a trifle didactic. There's a lot of exposition through dialogue and the dialogue occasionally becomes clunky because of it. But really, this is a minor nitpick. This Is How It Always Is is a revelatory novel. I consider myself reasonably aware of trans issues but to see the web of complex issues and decisions laid out in a novel about a relatable and likeable family such as this one was a moving experience. I was rooting for Poppy for all I was worth but I was also rooting for Penn and for Rosie and for all the other children. Because nobody in this family has an easy time of it.

Here's hoping for the best for all Poppys (and Penns and Rosies) out there.


If This Is How It Always Is appeals, you might enjoy Paralian: Not Just Transgender by Liam Klenk, an autobiography and a journey through childhood disability, issues with parents, marriages, divorces, and gender dysphoria.

Buy This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel at Amazon.com.


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