This Is How It Always Is

Family -
Transgender -
We’ve fallen under the spell of This Is How It Always Is
Laurie Frankel
Flatiron Books
Publication Date
Jan 03, 2017
Number of Pages
Nominee - Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2017)

Girl with fairy wings looking at the starsI read this as an audiobook, and Gabra Zackman brings Laurie Frankel’s words so vividly to life that I found myself craving my commute to work, because it would mean that I could listen to it. I found excuses to drive my car so I could listen and, when the car wasn’t available, I would go for luxurious walks so that I could stay in the company of Claude/Poppy, Penn, Rosie, and their sons. I just loved this family and wanted them to be my neighbors. I settled for them being the best food for my ears that I have listened to in years.

This Is How It Always Is is the story of Rosie and Penn, parents to four boys and pregnant with their fifth child. Rosie desperately wants it to be a girl and chants the name Poppy in her head in the delivery room. In the end, they welcome another boy, Claude, into the world, but as Claude gets older they notice he is different from their other sons. For one thing, he wants to be a girl scientist when he grows up. For another, he only wants to wear dresses. Claude, they realize, is not the little boy he looks like on the outside. In his heart, and his very essence, he is a girl. And so Poppy comes into their life and she is magnificent.

This Is How It Always Is is the story of two parents who go to the utmost extent to make their children happy. It is the story of four brothers accepting and, more importantly, loving their little sister. This book is just so beautiful—in prose, in wit, and mostly in execution. Frankel handles this tough subject matter carefully, wonderfully, and with a humor that made me smile to myself more times than I can count. The story is a very personal one to Frankel, as she herself has raised a transgender child. She wrote about it in this article. The way she depicts the family is beautiful. This is a family that I want to know, inside and out. They’re the sort of family I would hope would live in my cul-de-sac so we could have bbqs together. Their company was just so great and gave me a tremendous high as I listened.

The book, of course, also had lows of an incredible depth. Raising Poppy comes with its fair share of complications, and the family ends up keeping it a secret that Poppy is transgender, and just pretending that she is cis. They think this will be easier, will help them avoid awkward conversations, and will fix any future problems. It doesn’t, and the book then becomes the story of what the family has to do next.

I came to this book late. It was brought to my attention thanks to Reese Witherspoon’s book club. The hardback cover didn’t thrill me, but the paperback cover (the one in deep blue) is brilliant and sells the book so well; Poppy’s little drawn-on fairy wings as she looks at the stars is just perfect.

Penn tells a bedtime story to his children most nights. I loved this sweet addition to the plot. It reminded me of storytime with my own parents and the adventures we would go on before bed. Storytime is a magical part of childhood, and the ability to tell a really, really good story is a gift. If there were literary Olympic games, then the sport of storytelling would have me glued to the screen.

There are so many layers to this book that I could write a school-style essay on it. I won’t do that because I’m sure none of you would appreciate it, but I think everyone would appreciate this book and its message. The blurb includes the following line: “this is how children change…and then change the world.” Reading this book will change you, and the publication of this book has the potential to change the way that the world thinks.

About the Contributor

This is Maiko. She’s liked books since forever, which is how she ended up working in publishing. Her favorite author is now, and forever will be, Tamora Pierce (and not only because Prince Jonathan was her first book crush). She’ll read anything (unless it’s Austen) and especially loves folklore and myth. Her current addictions are radio-drama podcasts, movies starring Domhnall Gleeson and going for extravagantly long walks. She’s based in London and currently works for Hachette.