The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is dual perspective novel, telling the story of 2 teenage boys, David and Leo, and the journey they take after meeting. David is 14 and time is running out for him to tell his parents that he wants to be a girl. So far only his 2 best friends know, but he needs to tell his parents so that they can help his transition before he starts to look too much like a man. Leo is in the year above, and is desperately trying to slot quietly into year 11 without anyone finding out why he moved schools. After the 2 of them meet, they begin the difficult but important road to self-discovery.
Lisa bravely but beautifully tackles gender identity and transgender issues in a way that feels real and raw but yet accessible to those who have no personal experience of what it’s like to be transgender. Her work with the Gender Identity Development Service is clear, and the detail is what makes this book stand out. All of the stories in this book felt genuine and real and I think that’s so important because there wasn’t a single moment where I felt that transgender issues were being trivialised. As well as this, the plot felt organic and I didn’t feel that any parts of it were forced to get a reaction from the reader which I really respect Lisa for. I think that this book has so much potential to be a game changer in LGBT Young Adult novels and has raised the standard by a mile.
I think what I love most about Lisa’s writing is that it is so unmistakably English and honestly, I miss that in other books by English authors. With almost every book that I’ve picked up in the last few years I’ve felt like I’m sort of missing out, as if I’m not quite who the book is aimed at and consequently I’ve enjoyed the book a little bit less. With this however I got every single word and didn’t have to try an decipher the American grading system to find out how old the characters are, and for the first time in what seems like forever, maths was not missing the ‘s’.
It’s these little touches that make this book so special and are what brings the story a bit closer to home. It’s always going to be difficult as a non-transgender person to understand the story of someone who is, but when it’s in a setting that you recognise, the situation feels more personal and touching.
I also felt that Lisa created wonderfully well rounded characters and I believed every single one. It makes such a difference when reading a book where you feel like you already know the characters and I think again that comes from it feeling so very English. There was definitely a Harry Beaumont in my school year and the feelings that I felt towards that person that I knew at school were automatically felt towards this perfectly described bully. Other than Will Grayson, Will Grayson, this is the only dual perspective novel that I’ve read and I was so impressed by Lisa’s ability to clearly create 2 very different characters. There are different fonts used for David and Leo’s stories but the voices were so distinct that after a couple of chapters, it was very clear who was speaking from the writing alone.
I was blown away by this book and will be recommending it to everyone that walks through the shop doors. The Art of Being Normal is such an important book, bringing to life the stories of ordinary people with such difficult lives. Although I’ve always been understanding and open minded about transgender issues, this has opened my eyes further to the problems that so many teenagers face. I think that this book is so wonderful and I really hope that Lisa Williamson writes more.
Ps: This book starts at the beginning of the school year and so by the end of the book, it’s Christmas time! If you’re like me and get over excited by festive references, it might be best to save this for December (or read again in December!) – it would also make the PERFECT Christmas gift!