Title: The Art of Being Normal (2015)
Author: Lisa Williamson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Extent: 353 pages
Release Date: January 1, 2015
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 eleven 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…
I picked up The Art of Being Normal not really knowing what it was about — I’ve heard of the title before but had no recollection of the blurb when I started reading, one random night when I had nothing to do. Well, that turned out to be quite a lucky decision, because I ended up flying through this book in two days, it was that easy to read.
The Art of Being Normal is about two boys: David, who comes from a loving, supportive family but hasn’t the courage yet to come out as trans, and Leo, who comes from a more dysfunctional family from the poorer side of town and has just moved to David’s school. This story is told from both David’s and Leo’s perspectives, though I would argue that David’s perspective took a bit more precedence and was more the ‘main’ perspective. He also refers to himself as ‘he’ for most of the story, so that’s what I’ll be doing in this review.
“Because I’m not gay. I’m just a straight girl stuck in a boy’s body.”
The dual perspective writing style allows us to see into both these boys’ minds, focusing more on their growth as characters as well as the slow, reluctant development of their friendship. Both these boys are quite likeable characters: David was adorable and earnest, very eager to please, whereas Leo was more broody and angsty but quite soft-hearted. At first I wasn’t quite sure why we were given two perspectives to work with, but later in the story I understood why and now think it was quite well-done of Williamson.
This book explores currently relevant things such as bullying, transgenderism, coming out, and being different and true to yourself. It’s very thoughtful in its exploration of these themes, and some scenes were just heartfelt. This is not an ‘issues’ story, however. The Art of Being Normal is at the heart of it really just about these two boys — it doesn’t attempt to make big, sweeping statements or to change your life. For me, this was a good thing, because that means the book never entered into preachy territory, though the messages relayed were quite positive still.
“Besides,” Dad says, “who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.”
For a book that’s thematically quite heavy, The Art of Being Normal is actually quite light-hearted. The struggles that these boys are facing are very real: David hates that he’s growing bigger and taller, more like a boy and less like a girl, while Leo struggles with anger and denial. The emotions that they felt came through quite well in the story, and I enjoyed that.
I’m not sure what it was that actually made me take off two stars from this book. The ending was a bit rushed, but I also thought it was realistic and quite well-deserved. Overall I enjoyed this whole book and breezed through it, but at the end of the day, I’m just not sure if it was unforgettable. It’s still quite a good book if you want to read a bit more diversely, though. 🙂