Thursday, 17 September 2015

'The Art of Being Normal' Review


'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
Review by Sarah Nuttall


David Piper is a fourteen-year old boy who has kept a secret for years. A secret that makes him feel different, scared and alone, yet the implications of revealing the secret could shatter David’s world. For David knows that he is a girl in a boy’s body, he has known for years and the secret is slowly weighing him down to the point where he feels he is drowning. Leo also has a secret, one that he would prefer to keep hidden from the world and has switched schools to hide. Leo knows this secret could shatter his new life so he keeps people at bay. However, when the mysterious Leo befriends David to protect him from being bullied, they both recognise that each is holding onto a secret. This friendship allows both David and Leo to take the first steps into the adult world allowing them to understand themselves and offering them acceptance, independence, love and happiness. 


The Art of Being Normal is the debut novel from Lisa Williamson and based simply on the quality of this debut, I have high expectations of what wonders she will bring to the YA genre. Although this book wants to discuss the wider issues of the LGBT community, it is secondary to creating memorable, original and well-crafted characters that I loved spending time with. I felt like I could identify with all the characters in the book despite not facing the same challenges and obstacles in my life. The book is so beautifully written that I cried several times and for days afterwards, I thought about the characters and the world they inhabited. I raved about this book to anyone who would listen that that they needed to read this book as I wanted to share the brilliance with everyone and discuss the issues raised.

I absolutely adored this book and think it is one of the most important YA books of the last ten years and marks a milestone in the understanding and reflection of an important issue in the LGBT community. Its central character is aware he is transgender and is viewing his options for transitioning to become, on the outside, a reflection of who David is on the inside. It is the first book I’ve read in YA that contains characters that are transgender and are at different stages of their transitioning and I hope it opens a door for further books on the subject. It eloquently depicts the wide-ranging issues that the transgender community face and how challenging this can be in the context of high school.

I find the high school setting to be one of the book's greatest strengths. There is nothing scarier in the world to a teenager than the loss of routine (school-life and home-life), friends and family and David’s secret has the potential to shatter them all. The fear that to become who David truly is, might cause those he loves to turn their back on him and destroy not only his home-life but also school-life, is a truly terrible possibility; one that would strike fear into the hearts of all teenagers and a fear David lives with daily. It is incredibly difficult to be unique in high school where the pressure to conform to the status quo is overwhelming. David’s choice is incredibly brave and moving and it is a pleasure to follow David on his journey. I do not want to go too deeply into the challenges David faces as the route David takes is unexpected and thrilling and I found the book was far more emotionally thrilling and unpredictable the less I knew. What I can say about this book is that it is a character-driven story and rich in plot with unexpected twists and turns that are believable and allow our characters to discover more about themselves.

The transgender/transitioning is a major plot point of The Art of Being Normal and it is treated with the upmost respect, love and understanding rather than being used for shock value or to sensationalise. The book is also realistic in portraying that there is still ignorance within society with the concept of transgender and transitioning and that this is not the end for David; there will be more challenges to face; more adversity to overcome. It is for this reason alone thatThe Art of Being Normal deserves the acclaim it has received. It has shined a light into a community that is under-represented by the media and society at large and often misunderstood. It also highlights the dangers the community faces from this ignorance, even though this year has seen several high-profile members of the transgender community speak out about their experiences such as Caitlyn Jenner and the development of the first Miss Transgender UK however there is still too much work to be done.

In the US alone this year, 17 transgender women have been murdered which is more than the entirety of the previous year. Acts of violence against the transgender community are not rare. Transphobia is real. According to the American Psychological Association, transgender children are likelier to face harassment and bullying than their peers and ¾ of transgender children reported feeling unsafe. It is a sobering thought that children can feel unsafe simply because of their sexual identity. The Art of Being Normal is therefore not only a well crated novel with a message but a book that can provide a little hope for the future whether it is allowing transgender children to feel less alone or providing non-transgender children a glimpse into a world they don’t know but the more we understand, the better a world we can make for everyone.

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Sarah Nuttall

Sarah is an active contributor for the YAfictionados blog site. She has written posts for the Waterstones blog and has worked as a bookseller (for 9 years), a Children's bookseller (for 6 years) and is now a manager at her local bookstore. Needless to say, Sarah is a valued member of the YAfictionados team - a true Children's and YA literature expert.

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