This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This is how it always is: a child dangles their legs from a branch in a treeA review by Nalini Haynes

Rosie is a student at med school when she meets Penn, an aspiring author. She tells Penn she doesn’t have time for a boyfriend because she’s in a medical residency so Penn woos her by sitting in Emergency, writing, during her 36 hour shifts. Penn tells Rosie a fairy story, the adventures of Grumwald. They have an abundant family: five boys. Grumwald’s story grows to encompass the family, using metaphor to explore issues with the growing family. The youngest child, Claude, wants to wear dresses. Soon he decides to change her name to Poppy. Grumwald acquires a friend, Princess Stephanie, because representation matters.

Still working in Emergency, Rosie loses a patient who was beaten and shot for being transgender at college. Terrified, she moves her family to Seattle because it’s so ‘tolerant’ that wait staff can be rude to hetero couples in restaurants.

However, with the move comes new issues. Poppy is popular and part of a gang of four, the PANKs, but no one knows Poppy has a penis. Eventually the secret comes out.

This Is How It Always Is is an incredible book about the hilarity, trials and tribulations of parenting any child. It’s in-depth look at the issues faced by a family who loves one another unconditionally while struggling with issues of non-conformity. Frankel’s use of fairy tales and metaphor enriches the narrative, developing the storyteller’s personal journey as much as helping Penn’s audience (his children). Written by a mother of a transgender child who’s done the research and lived the parenting role, This Is How It Always Is is a revelation.

My rating: masterpiece. Don’t just take my word for it. From Hachette’s website:

  • With emotional acuity, admirable bravery, utter compassion, and complete understanding, [Frankel has] created a family attempting to forge a path through one of life’s most mystifying challenges: how to define what it is that makes your child who he or she is: unique, beloved, and whole. This is a novel everyone should read. It’s brilliant. It’s bold. And it’s time – Elizabeth George

  • A beguiling tale of a sprawling, loving, ever-changing, unconventional and yet completely typical modern family… Wonderfully moving – Garth Stein

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781472241597
Format: paperback, 323 pages
Imprint: Headline (Hachette)