Contemporary Fiction Review: This Is How It Always Is

July 6, 2020 Uncategorized 4 ★★★★

Contemporary Fiction Review: This Is How It Always IsTitle: This Is How It Always Is
Author: Laurie Frankel
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: I loved almost all of this book, but one section was iffy both in terms of representation and plot progression.

“This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them. This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated. This is how children change…and then change the world. This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess. When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl. [Parents] Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.” (source)

I picked this book up imagining that we would get the perspective of the entire family, but the book primarily focused on Rosie and Penn. As a result, while I certainly learned something about what it might be like to be or to have a trans child, I mostly learned about the experience of parenting in general. As someone without children, I really admired Rosie and Penn’s laser focus on what would make their children happy in the short and long term. It was interesting to read about the ways that even this clear focus on their children’s happiness didn’t always make it obvious what the right decision was.

Part of the reason I took so long to review this book, though, is that I have some mixed feelings about it. In particular, there’s a trip to Thailand towards the end of the book that I didn’t think added much to the plot and that was handled rather poorly. As soon the family arrives, the local women are described as uniformly, exotically feminine. It flattened out the real differences that you’d see among women of any culture. The rest of the trip seems to exist solely to give our characters a chance to work out their feelings. Poverty, limited medical care, and the resulting suffering were nothing but a backdrop against which our characters could do some soul searching. One Thai character, who would probably identify as a trans woman if she lived in the US, felt like a prop to allow Rosie to explore her own mixed feelings. And Rosie is portrayed as a bit of a savior of the local medical staff, despite their greater experience working with limited resources.

Honestly, I don’t feel totally confident in my assessment of the prior section. Some parts of the Thai trip felt innocuous, others seemed borderline, and parts struck me as clearly poor portrayals of another culture. I’d love to hear some other perspectives if any of you have read this book! Most of the other reviews I found that complained about this section seemed to hate this book, which I definitely didn’t. I loved the writing, which was certainly trying to be clever, because for me, it succeed at that. I thought it was funny and heartwarming and charming. Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I just would have preferred a quicker resolution, dropping the Thai trip both for the sake of a snappier plot and to avoid using an entire culture as nothing but backdrop.

4 Responses to “Contemporary Fiction Review: This Is How It Always Is”

  1. Helen Murdoch

    I read this book a while ago and don’t have super clear memories of the Thailand part. However, I thought the book was really well done and leant it to a friend who has a transgender child. She said the book was spot on and it really resonated with her so I took that as a positive.

    • DoingDewey

      At the very beginning, the comments about Thai women struck me as a little off, so I think I read the rest of it with a more critical eye. Overall, I also thought the rest was really well done and I knew the author was drawing on her own experiences. I’m glad to hear this felt true to your friend’s experiences too 🙂
      DoingDewey recently posted…Contemporary Fiction Review: This Is How It Always IsMy Profile

  2. Lisa @ Reading, Writing, and Random Musings

    It’s been quite awhile since I read the book, but I remember thinking that I didn’t necessarily love the Thai trip aspect either. I did love the book though. The author has a child who is transgender, and she drew on her own experience while writing the book which I think is definitely reflected in the perspectives highlighted. This is a book I recommend often for opening and extending the conversation on transgenderism in our society.
    Lisa @ Reading, Writing, and Random Musings recently posted…Recent Reads: June 2020My Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks! Nice to hear that it wasn’t just me. Other than that, I loved the book too. I agree that it would be a great way to start a conversation, especially one about trans children. I really did like how the parents were always acting from a place of love (and also never in a bigoted way) and yet the answers still weren’t always clear. It was a good look at the challenges of being a parent!

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