Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long …
Publisher – David Fickling Books
Date Published – 1st January 2015
Pages – 353 pages
Format – Hardback
Category – UK YA
I was sent a copy of this book by the wonderful Lovereading4kids and the publisher David Fickling Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my review or my opinions in any way. Thank you both for sending me this book to read and review. My review will also be submitted to Lovereading4kids.
** Please note Tales Of Yesterday Reviews are written as spoiler free as possible**
Wow! This is my first read of 2015 and all I can say is what a way to start 2015! I finished this book today and wanted to write my book review straight away as I have that much love for this book. Such an important, stunning beautifully written debut by Lisa Williamson and a great addition to UKYA. I really hope that my review does this book the justice it fully deserves and that I am able to get across just how special this book is.
**Please note – Because David uses male pronouns in his internal dialogue I have also done this in my review **
Right from the offset, page one, this book gave me goose bumps! Straight away I new it was going to be something special.
The Art Of Being Normal tells the story of David Piper, who has always felt like the outsider and has always known that he is a transgender girl. He has picked a name, has a collection of female clothes, a scrap book and many letters he has tried to write to his parents to let them know his feelings and wishes. His best friends Essie and Felix are the only ones that know about David’s feelings and support him completely with Essie even giving David some old dresses she no longer wanted. Leo Denton is the new boy in school, transferred from Cloverdale to Eden Park who’s motto is “Fairness and Initiative”, he wants to lay low and get through the rest of school year without making friends. What he doesn’t bank on is catching the attention of the lovely Alicia, with Disney princess long eyelashes. and fighting the school bully Harry landing him in detention for weeks where he forms a friendship with David over maths equations and a dog named Phillip.
The story is told from alternate flowing perspectives with different font / styles of text to reflect David and Leo’s point of view which for me, as a reader, was perfect. Both voices come across importantly and distinctively making both characters fully enjoyable and individual. I also loved the fact that David loves Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream – ohhhh my favourite of all the ice creams – EVER!
Lisa Williamson really gets the emotions and feelings of the characters across beautifully and sensitively including obstacles that are thrown in their way. The relationship that David has with his body is evident at the beginning of the story with a weekly examination session in front of the mirror where David writes measurements down each week to determine how his body is changing and becoming more masculine, when he knows he is a girl. There’s a great passage of David’s thoughts when he sees a buggy with twin babies in where the baby girl is dressed in pink and the baby boy dressed in blue. This is an assumption we make from birth and the passage really makes you think.
As well as the relationship between David and Leo I adored the relationship between David, Essie and Felix who call themselves The Non-Conformists. They are so supportive and encouraging of David and his decisions or when things get too much and the relationship is natural and everything I, as a reader, would love in a best friend.
As the story develops further the relationship that is built between David and Leo is touching and endearing with the old empty swimming baths scene beautifully written and bringing tears to my eyes as well as some comedic light hearted scenes which involve bingo, alcohol and a memorable Karaoke scene. Lisa Williamson has previously discussed the Karaoke scene in a previous Tales Of Yesterday post about does music influence characters or stories in UKYA which you can find here. I have to say in answer to Lisa’s question on this post the lyrics she created really did work so well in the book.
I also loved how the book explored the rocky relationship Leo has with his Mother and in contrast the close relationship he has with his sisters. On the other side of the coin we have David who is close to his parents, but scared they will disown him once he reveals the truth and a rocky relationship with his younger photogenic sister Livvy. It was, for me, a welcome addition to the storyline which continued and was explored throughout the book.
The last quarter of the book did something very strange to me which involved my stomach flipping over and over and eyes becoming misty eyed with tears of joy and of thinking how this book could really help or be a support to transgender boys, girls, men and women as well as parents, teachers, carers, brothers, sisters and friends who are trying to support or maybe understand. Or maybe to someone who is feeling confused about their gender with no where to turn. With the recent tragic news about transgender teen Leelah Alcorn’s suicide it made me think whether, if more books like this had been available to her or the people around her, she might have felt less alone in the world.
There is a passage in the book where one character asks another what they love about a play they are watching and the answer to the question really sums up my feelings.
“The humour I guess. And the love story, the way everything is a big muddle, but it all comes together at the last minute. And the way you sort of know that that’s going to happen the whole way through, but when it happens you’re still really happy about it, even though you knew its was coming”
A perfect stunning, important read. I loved every single page, every single feeling, every single message. Transgender, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, fat or thin no one has the right to make you feel bad about yourself and should all be accepted. Most importantly this book, for me, is asking the question What Is Normal? And my own answer to this is everyone is normal in their own unique ways and we should stand proud. Maybe different is the norm? We all need to shout this from the rooftops and spread the word and make different the norm!
I award this book 5 out of 5 Tales Of Yesterday Books!
You can buy a copy of The Art Of Being Normal here
For more fab reviews of this book please check out the brilliant Lovereading4kids reviews of this book here.
Check out my Q&A with Lisa Williamson here
Have you read The Art Of Being Normal? Are you planning to read? Were you unsure and this review has persuaded you to go and buy this book? Has this book helped you in any way? I would love to hear from you – please feel free to use the reply button at the top of the review to post a comment or why not follow and tweet me on twitter on @chelleytoy – I would love to hear from you!