Thursday, 26 May 2016

#WhatIsNormal: 'The Art of Being Normal' review

'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
Review by Christopher Moore

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth - David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal - to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long ...

The Art of Being Normal is an incredibly thought-provoking book that looks at bullying, abuse and family but in particular, transgender life  territory that is seldom touched on in YA lit. Winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016 (for Best Older Fiction Category), it doesn't take a rocket science to understand why. The book tells the story of two boys  Leo, who wants to be invisible, and David, who's hiding a secret. David is transgender and for as long as he can remember, he has wanted to be a girl. He struggles to tell his family, fearing their reactions. Bullied at school, through David's narrative, we learn to empathise and understand more about what it means to be transgender (for example, I never knew about the concept "to go stealth" or why it mattered but Williamson slips it in seamlessly to the story, entertaining, enlightening and educating the reader).

David and Leo are complete opposites and in other ways, they are so alike. Their narrative voices are completely different and a great contrast in the way the story is told. I love how David scopes out society in different ways; when he sees twins in a buggy, one wearing blue and the other pink, and remarking on the way society wants to fit you into a mould that you don't necessarily fit. Leo's thoughts are more inward, centred around his past, his family and the father he never knew. Essie and Felix are incredible characters too. They offeran interesting dynamic, infinite dollops of humour and as the self-labelled Non-Conformists, they are who they are unapologetically so.

I'm incredibly happy that The Art of Being Normal has done so well. It feels like the "what will the parents think?" concerns have gone out the window or, at the very least, are a less important factor in determining prize winners. It proves that you don't have to be transgender to read it and more so, it's a huge contribution to the LGBT canon. All that is required is an open mind. The novel raises the question of what it is to be normal and maybe there's no such thing as normal and if there is, it's fitting in line with a preconceived set of notions that we've passed down for decades, even centuries, and if that's the case, ignore them. Empower yourself and be who you want to be because normal is overrated. As a friend of mine once said: "do you, boo. Do you."

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★
Christopher Moore:
Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

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