Book Review: The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

The-Art-of-Being-Normal-Lisa-Williamson-Book-Review

Title: The Art of Being Normal (2015)
Author: Lisa Williamson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Extent: 353 pages
Release Date: January 1, 2015
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Goodreads Description

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…

Review

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. 🙂

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28 thoughts on “Book Review: The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

  1. I’ve been meaning to read a book from a transgender perspective after watching Princess Joules on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/princessjoules). After learning what her personal transitioning process involved, I was shocked by how little I knew and how much appreciation she deserved for the hardship and discrimination she’d gone through. The Art of Being Normal sounds sweet and sensitive. Can you recommend any other transgender books, especially ones that are more confronting/explicit?

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  2. I know you refer to the trans character as ‘he’ in your review because that’s what the book does, but if that character identifies as a girl I’m not sure how I feel about it. I would have to read the book tho to fairly disagree with your pronoun choice, and I haven’t yet! Definitely want to check it out. x

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    • I’ve been lucky enough to meet the author of this book and she uses “he” to refer to David too. Because the character is still feeling around the whole identity issue rather than strictly identifying fully as a girl, I think it’s right. Have you read What We Left Behind by Robin Talley? There’s a lot in there about gender identification and pronoun use.

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      • That’s super awesome that you get to meet the author! Was it at a book signing of some kind? And yeah, David was still definitely kind of feeling it out, and there was a marked moment in the book where he changed pronouns – I think that’s when I would’ve started using ‘she/her’; I just didn’t address that part of the book in my review.

        Gotta check out that book. Thanks! 🙂

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  3. I have never read a book about transgenderism so this sounds like a good first! And light-hearted or not Reg, I think these days writers take diversity a bit too seriously (not that it’s a bad thing) and ends up making huge statements about it. Which is again fine but I would love it if we read books where diverse themes were dealth with in a rather subtle way that shows that things should not be such a hyped topic and should instead be a part of our routine life. I mean its great to read about the struggles of a black person or the conflicts faced by bisexuals/gay/lesbians, but personally I think if more writers treated such matters as something natural, the more society would start thinking it is natural. Afterall, reading makes people more open-minded.

    Great review as always Reg! Are you gonna make a book look on this too? Can’t wait to see it if you do 😊

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    • I’m not sure if I’d say that writers take diversity “a bit too seriously”, but sometimes I do feel like some diverse characters are put into certain books kind of as a token. BUT I also kind of agree with you – right now these things are very much “hyped” instead of treated as “natural”… although at the same time I can’t help but to think this is just because these themes are still kind of rare, not the mainstream, so obviously any appearance they make in any book is going to be noted as a difference.

      Thanks, Tanaz! Probably not, tbh – none of the colours really call out to me and I’m just too lazy. 😂

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  4. This is a great review Reg, and it sounds like a great books as well though it’s a shame it’s a little forgettable if that’s what made you knock off two stars from your rating.
    I haven’t read many books with issues like transgenderism but this sounds like an interesting one to start off with, especially if as you say the issues in this book were all handled well because that is so important with books like this. Even so I like the sound that this is still a book that focuses more on the characters than their issues and preaching to the readers. It’s great to have books that feature more diversity but at the same time it’s nice that these characters, and this story, aren’t defined by that fact.

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    • Thanks, Beth! Yeah – it was just really… simple, I guess, which is good, but ultimately I’m not sure if I’d remember the specifics beyond a couple of months after reading, haha.

      I hope you read this one! It’s definitely NOT preachy and very light-hearted for a story with potentially heavy themes. The characters are really likeable too, so it makes for easy reading. You’re definitely right – it’s great to have diverse books that aren’t completely defined by their diverse-ness. 🙂

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      • That’s all right, it’s nice to read light-hearted and fluffy books sometimes I’ll admit but you want them to stick with you afterwards as well, you don’t want to forget the story and the characters after a couple of months!
        I almost feel there need to be more books like that, sometimes you get cases where authors have used the diversity to compensate for other main aspects of their story, like the plot or character development, and that’s never good to read. 🙂

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  5. I want to pick this book up someday, and I love how the author did deal with a heavy topic, in a more lighthearted way. I feel as if, many times people go through great lengths to normalize or excuse such issues, making it seem very controversial and hard to get through. This approach definitely seems better, although the fact that it wasn’t memorable, is a little disappointing.

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