#Whatsonyourbookshelf? A Novel Full of Heart

Every once in a while, a book comes along that inspires me to sing its praises to anyone who will listen. It is so special that long after reading the last sentence and closing the cover, the story stays wrapped around my heart.   

I recently discovered such a book by luck. After dropping items off at my favorite charity store, I stopped by their used book section. The book’s blue and yellow cover attracted my attention despite its rather awkward title. I pulled it out, read the blurbs on the cover, and decided that it was going home with me. Normally, I happily pay the few dollars for a book, read it, then return it to the shop so it can be resold. I’m afraid this book won’t be going back anytime soon.

This is How it Always Is, by Laurie Frankel is a book about family. It is also about secrets, fairy tales, and acceptance. It is about life not always turning out the way we envision, and how we deal with the challenges we face.   

Frankel’s novel is often laugh out loud funny even as it deals with a very serious subject: raising a gender non-conforming child. I fell in love with the parents, Rosie and Penn, and their four older boys but, most of all, their fifth child, Claude/Poppy, stole my heart.

“He said he wanted to be a chef when he grew up. He also said he wanted to be a cat when he grew up. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a chef, a cat, a vet, a dinosaur, a train, a farmer, a recorder player, a scientist, an ice cream cone, a first baseman, or maybe the inventor of a new kind of food that tasted like chocolate ice cream but nourished like something his mother would say yes to for breakfast. When he grew up, he said, he wanted to be a girl.”

Frankel tells the story of this family with such warmth and honesty that it invites thoughtful discussion and consideration. I personally know two families who have a transgender child. These parents and their kids are real people who love each other and are doing well despite the challenges society throws at them. Rather than fearing or disparaging those that don’t conform to our “normal,” maybe this novel can help to open hearts.  

Beyond the novel’s overarching theme, there are also lessons here for everyone about unconditional love and acceptance of those who are different. We don’t have to completely understand to treat others with empathy and compassion.  

This is How it Always Is has won multiple awards since it was published in 2017, including Amazon’s Best Book of the Year, and the 2018 Washington State Book Award. If you read this book—and I hope you do—please don’t skip the Author’s Note; it made me love the novel even more.

This post is linked to the monthly #whatsonyourbookshelf challenge hosted by Donna, Deb, Jo, and Sue. Head on over to share what you are reading and see what others recommend.

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Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

81 thoughts on “#Whatsonyourbookshelf? A Novel Full of Heart”

  1. What a wonderful review, Janis. This one sounds like a must-read. It’s a difficult and controversial topic. I’ve personally had two transgender individuals as close friends and known of many others. Their stories are as unique as there are stars in the sky. I love the wording in your review, especially of the many things the child wanted to be. Beautifully done.

  2. Good to know. I’ll look forward to reading this one. Helping to open hearts would be a wonderful thing.

  3. Hi Janis, thank you for introducing this beautiful book to me and for taking part in the What’s On Your Bookshelf? I recently noted a TV Series called ‘Butterfly’ which deals with the issue of transgender children. In February we had Pride and the Mardis Gras which again highlight the LGBTIQ community. Many still need to be educated around acceptance of others and hopefully books and TV series, if handled correctly, will help. I will definitely be reading this and thanks for the prompt tip for the 52 Book Club Challenge. x

  4. i just started reading this and love it all ready. You described it wonderfully. I can’t wait to begin tonights reading.

  5. Hi, Janis – Thank you so much for joining us — and for successfully adding to InLinkz. 😀 Your review made me eager to read this book myself. I am off to see if our library has a copy. Fingers crossed!

  6. Thank you for the review. My library has it available as an ebook so I’ll check it out. I think most of us have someone in our life who has struggled with gender issues. Life is not quite as simple as years past, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still open our arms to all those we love and know.

    1. I’m so happy to know that my review inspired you to read the book! Unfortunately in years past, simple often meant that “uncomfortable” things were swept under the rug. I imagine there were people all along the gender spectrum back then too but it was hidden and ignored. This book does a good job showing how these secrets – even well-intentioned ones – can have negative consequences.

  7. I have a step-son with Asperger’s (they don’t call it that anymore). It’s not something you would notice except that he doesn’t have the “filters” another person would have. I read a book about a family with a son on the spectrum and it helped me understand so much (and get less exasperated). I bet this would do that too. Our closest friends have a trans grandchild and we went with them through the transition from not understanding, thinking it was a phase to all the rest. If you can also laugh, it makes it an even better book! Thanks for the heads up.

    1. That is such a great point, Kate. Reading a novel about people dealing with something we aren’t familiar with can open our minds and make it easier to relate. I honestly think many of us probably know more people who don’t neatly fit into our definition of “normal” than we think we do.

  8. Sounds interesting! And I especially liked your sentence about not having to completely understand people in order to accept them. If we could just remember that, the world would be am much more peaceful place.

  9. I’ve just added this to my want to read list Janis, thanks for your lovely review. I also appreciate how others choose books to read and sometimes the cover, the blurb, comments etc just sell it to us and in this case it was a win/win for you! Great to have you join us for WOYBS 🙂

  10. We don’t have to completely understand to treat others with empathy and compassion. I would like to write that across the sky. Thanks for the book tip. I just added it to my list.

    My book club discussed Louise Erdrich’s newest book, The Sentence, yesterday. Great book…totally different than your book, but actually…there are some common threads. But one thing we all enjoyed and chuckled over in the book was reference to the two piles on the beside stand. The pile of soft, easy books beside the pile of hard. demanding books. We all agreed that some books may start in one pile and end up in the other pile.

    1. I read, and loved, The Sentence too. I’ve also read The Roundhouse and The Night Watchman and enjoyed them (but not as much as The Sentence). I’m thrilled when I find an author who is consistent with quality writing, compelling characters, and interesting subject matter. I look foreword to reading more from Frankel too.

  11. Hi Janis, A beautiful introduction and a wonderful review. I love how “the story stays wrapped around my heart.” Speaks volumes and I have added this book to my TBR list. The subject of gender non-conforming children comes up more often now and unfortunately assumptions are made, especially unkind judgements. It sounds like an inspirational book for many reasons. Kindness, empathy, compassion…universal lessons. Thank you for the heartfelt review and recommendation. 💕

    1. I’m so happy that my review inspired you to add it to your TBR list! I hope you enjoy it, Erica. And, you are right, the subject is getting more attention lately… and it’s not always the good kind of attention. If we are to understand people who are different from us, we need to open our hearts. Books like these can help.

  12. Thank you for this recommendation, Janis. I’ve found my next read. The way you describe this book, I would want to read it regardless; however, the fact that I have a transgender grandchild and a close friend with a transgender child adds an extra layer of interest.

    1. I hope you enjoy the book too, Christie. I think many people are discovering that being gender non-conforming (in whatever form that takes) is not as unusual as we were led to believe. In the past, it was just swept under the rug and ignored. Fortunately, society is slowly coming around and – hopefully – becoming more accepting.

  13. I have added it to my requested books from the library. I think it’s a subject we all need to be more aware of. I am not as hopeful as you that it is becoming acceptable but perhaps someday. The indigenous culture has accepted it always as those of two spirits.

    1. I remember when accepting people who were gay and lesbian was unheard of but, as people’s friends, co-workers, and family members came out, we expanded our definition of “normal.” I am happy to know that many indigenous cultures acknowledge that we have multiple spirits.

      1. I do fear it will be some time before acceptance truly comes. It seems, even with women’s rights, we step backwards as much or more than as we step forwards.

  14. Somehow I missed this post, but I read it after reading your post today about taking a break. I’m going to miss you while you’re away, but I’m so grateful that you’ve left me with something so wonderful to read! I just put myself on the waiting list at our library and I’m number 5 in line. 🙂

    Your review is so beautifully written and so inspiring. What you’ve shared helps to spread kindness and acceptance. Thank you, Janis. Enjoy your break from blogging…I look forward to your return!

    1. I love that my post has encouraged several people to read the book… I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did.

      I’ve never taken a blogging break as long as this one. I look forward to less screen time… but I also look forward to returning to the blogosphere in June 🙂 Enjoy your spring!

  15. This sounds like an interesting book Janis. I knew someone whose family rejected him when he came out as a young adult. He remained estranged from his family until his untimely death at age 46 when he was rear-ended by a dump truck driver who was texting and driving. Very sad.

      1. Yes, it is wrong Janis and I was an only child, but my mother was not and she told me her brother could do no wrong in the family and there was favoritism toward him – I think that hurts a lot as well.

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