This is How It Always Is
By Laurie Frankel
pp. 338 Flatiron Books
Published January 4, 2017
#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth George said about “This is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel that, “This is a novel everyone should read. It’s brilliant. It’s bold. And it’s time.” She could not have been more right.
This novel tells the awe-inspiring, realistic and difficult story of Claude. His parents are the first characters introduced: Penn, who works diligently day in and day out on his novel, and Rosie, an ER nurse. Delightful as their love that subverts classic gender roles may be, this is not their story. The true tale begins when young Claude decides that when he grows up he wants to be a girl. He dreams of wearing elaborate dresses, having long flowing hair and eating peanut butter sandwiches (his favorite) in the company of princes and princesses.
Luckily for Claude, Penn and Rosie want their child to be whoever and whatever makes them happiest. Claude wears a dashing pink bikini, plays with four motley older brothers and listens to Penn’s bedtime stories about Grumwald and Princess Stephanie that teach thinly veiled lessons. Claude grows up. Claude’s parents, however, are not sure if they’re ready to share this secret. Then, one day, they have no choice.
I picked up this novel for fun, not intending to write about it for this column. However, once I finished it, it was abundantly clear that, although this book just celebrated its two year anniversary, I just had to write about it. There is no way to read this book and not be absolutely enamored of this family and their journey. It seems that this may be the case because Frankel writes from a perspective of understanding after raising a child, her daughter who is transgender, through a journey similar to (but most certainly different than) Claude’s.
This is how a loving, accepting, dynamic family learns to keep a secret. With the best intentions, they choose which parts of their lives to share with the world and which parts to keep to themselves. This is the story of how a child is told to choose between boy or girl, but instead sagely and naively searches for something in between. With the information Claude has, Claude explores what it means to grow up and become a truer version of themselves. As the back of the book says, “This is how children change… and then change the world.”
“This is How it Always is,” a New York Times bestseller, is a rare sort of novel that makes its readers cry, laugh and think deeply all in the span of three hundred plus pages. Following the life of Claude and his family, this story transcends the contemporary fiction genre and reaches up to astronomical heights, shining down brilliant and bright on all kinds of readers.
This novel is for those who, like Penn, believe in the magic of story; who understand that just because something is made up, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It is for anybody who seeks a bit of insight into what it might mean, in Claude’s case, to be transgender. It is a story of privilege and love, but also of sacrifice and lessons learned. It is a tale rife with well-intentioned secrets that ferment into dangerous ones. “This is How It Always Is” might just turn well-intentioned readers into dangerously radical, dangerously accepting, dangerously informed ones. It might inspire thought about what it means to be a parent, what it is to love with one’s whole heart and what it might be like to live with four big brothers. Laurie Frankel’s defiant novel stands up in the face of those who hide behind their ignorance or use it as a weapon and invites readers to come into the pages of night fairies, transgender children and shattered expectations. Come and let Claude clamber into your heart because this story might change you too.