Frankel, Laurie. “This Is How It Always Is: A Novel”, Flatiron Books, 2017.
Claude is five years old and the youngest of five brothers. He loves wearing dresses and he dreams of being a princess. He says he wants to be a girl when he grows up. Now go back and read what I just wrote. Do you think you would have read something like this say ten years ago in a book for the mass market?
Claude’s parents, Rosie and Penn Walsh-Adams want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be, however they’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Before long the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret and we all know about keeping secrets.
Laurie Frankel has written a novel about secrets and transformations and about family and revelations. We all know that change is hard, especially when it affect us directly. But change can also be redemption and salvation. Parents never know what their children will bring them and they sometimes have to just hope that all will be fine. Plans are broken as children grow and secrets never really last for long. Here we learn that the secret that the family was keeping actually keeps them.
Of late, there have been a number of memoirs from and stories by transgender recent years we’ve seen an increasing number of memoirs from transgender individuals. We have heard from parents who have done all that is possible to help their transgender children live happy and healthy lives in a society that sees gender based on genitals. Most of us think that our families will never have to face a situation like this— I know I did until my niece decided to become my nephew at 41 years old. Laurie Frankel takes those real-life experiences and gives us a story of family and secrets. Penn and Rosie are a loving couple, living in Madison, Wisconsin with their five boys. Soon they realized that their fifth son, their youngest, Claude, feels like he should have been born a girl. It is here that you should stop and check what your response to this might be. We then ask how do these strong, supportive parents go about helping their son live as the person he wants to be? The answer is here and it is fascinating. Being a parent is a difficult enough job anyway without adding something like this. We want to protect our children from hate and from being afraid and we want our children to be accepted. If a family holds a secret, it is not meant for anyone else to know. Sometimes secrets have a way of popping up suddenly and we see here just how far a family will go in order to keep a secret. How much can we, as parents and siblings, protect each other and what happens when secrets stop being secrets?
Rosie and Penn face that Claude is identifying more with girls, than boys. Rosie is an emergency-room physician and Penn is an author who, along with their children have to find a way to Adams – and his four older brothers work through to deal with “Claude” becoming “Poppy” and identifying as a little girl. Claude has grown up in the community as a boy, the change to girl causes strange looks and misunderstanding but it all seemed to be okay until…. the family had to deal with cruel bigotry. They responded by moving from Madison, Wisconsin to a more liberal place, Seattle which was said to be more accepting of difference. The move seemed to be okay and Poppy makes friends but Roo, the oldest son is a bit lost.
The parents have to decide how to go forward and what to say about Poppy and the child’s gender identification. They decide to share their secret with their neighbors and some people from school. Otherwise the secret is kept as a secret. During the five or so years that followed, Poppy becomes a real little girl as the family continues not telling anyone. What they did not consider were the changes to Poppy’s body and that physically she is male and developing as such.
I can see this as an excellent choice for a book club because of the questions that will arise from it. I love that writer Laurie Frankel brings in how the members of the family feel about having a transgender sibling. I know how I reacted when my sister told me that her daughter was becoming her son and how she supported it. We need more fine writing like this just as we need more understanding about gender.