LGBTQ YA Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Image result for art of being normal

Title: The Art of Being Normal

Author: Lisa Williamson

Rating: 4/5

Two sentence summary: Fourteen-year-old David Piper is hiding a secret: even though she was born male, she would give anything to be a normal girl like her sister. When her school’s new student Leo Denton stands up for her in a fight, she finds that “normal” is much more messy and complicated than she thought.


art
 Photos via Unsplash

What I loved: I thought that this novel did a great job handling heavy themes with grace and respect. Often, trans YA books deal only with gender identity and the consequences of coming out. That is a strong element of The Art of Being Normal, but Leo and David’s stories also deal with poverty, childhood neglect, absent parents, and bullying. I liked how the novel didn’t gravitate around gender because it made David’s trans identity seem less isolated. She’s not just this stock character who has nothing going for her besides her gender identity. She’s connected to Leo, her friends and family, and others in her life in a way that adds dimension to her personality. Her gender identity is important, but it’s not her defining feature. I think it’s important to broaden trans YA from “trans coming out stories” to “trans characters having rich, complex experiences” and this book does so very well.

The Art of Being Normal is written in a dual POV, with chapters switching off between David and Leo. I’m not always in love with this format because it can be difficult to make the two voices separate. In this book, though, it’s effective. Both Leo and David have distinct, well-developed voices and their POVs add important elements to the novel. If the story were told from just one POV, it wouldn’t feel as compelling.

Quote: “Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ‘Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.’”

Recommended: This is a book I’d recommend for people who want more insight into the trans experience if they’re not as familiar with the LGBTQ community. It’s a great “beginner” book for delving into trans YA. It’s insightful and offers a strong window into David’s story without bogging the text down with too many definitions. I love that it normalizes the trans experience while still voicing unique experiences that teens may face while coming out. Balanced, a little bittersweet, but ultimately a beautiful read.

Next: The Weekend Bucket List by Mia Kerick

YA Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Image result for if i was your girl meredith russo

Title: If I Was Your Girl

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Amanda Hardy moves to live with her father after transitioning to female, she just wants a peaceful and low-profile high school experience. But when she falls in love with her kind, complicated classmate Grant, she wonders how deeply you can love someone while hiding so much of yourself.

What I loved: For a novel that deals with some heavy topics (including suicide, sexual assault, and drug abuse), this is a wholesome story. I enjoyed how the chapters alternated between Amanda’s senior year and her memories realizing, coming to terms with, and finding confidence in her trans identity. It felt like If I Was Your Girl explored the complexities that come with transitioning well… which makes sense, since the author is a trans woman herself and has lived it.

At the beginning of the novel, Amanda considers herself “fully transitioned”—she socially transitioned, takes hormone therapy, and received gender confirmation surgery. Unless she wants to tell others, nobody would ever have to know that she’s trans. Yet she questions to what extent her trans identity is part of her story and, if it is, whether telling others is worth her safety. None of the questions have easy answers, but Amanda works through them in a way that gives her comfort.

Also, side note that has nothing to do with the story, but not only is this written by a trans woman (the first trans YA book I’ve read by a transgender author, by the way), but the model on the cover is also a trans woman. Not to speak for trans women but as a trans guy, that feels like positive and much-needed progress in YA publishing.

Quote: “Either way, I realized, I wasn’t sorry I existed anymore. I deserved to live. I deserved to find love. I knew now—I believed now—that I deserved to be loved.”

Recommended: One hundred times yes! I almost hesitate to say this just because there are so many good queer books but, if you choose to only read one transgender YA novel, I think it should be this one. We need more books about trans/non-binary people written by trans/non-binary authors. You can feel the authenticity of this experience in a way that I haven’t felt in other trans YA books before. The author doesn’t just feel sympathy for trans people but genuine empathy, and I think you can pick up on that.

That being said, I would love to read more books by trans and non-binary authors. If anyone has recommendations, be sure to leave a comment!

Next: If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

YA Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

Title: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir 

Author: Liz Prince

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Adventure Time artist and webcomic writer Liz Prince explores what being a girl meant for her growing up as a staunch tomboy, which she saw as someplace in between masculine and feminine. As Prince navigates her adolescence as a middle and high schooler, she pushes gender expectations aside and finds meaning in her tomboy identity.

What I loved: As a trans guy, this novel was fascinating for me to read. So many of Prince’s growing up experiences matched my own—like me, she also would consider it a compliment when strangers saw her as male, she felt most comfortable while wearing men’s clothes, and as a child, she hoped that she would eventually become a man. Yet she does not seem to identify as transgender but instead as a woman who defies gender expectations. I thought about this, wondering if I could have found solace as a “tomboy” in the same way, but I don’t think I could have.

But you know, that’s okay. I think both of our perspectives are valid. It goes to show how diverse and personal gender identity can be and how important it is to define that for yourself. Gender can be as complex or as simple as you make it to be, and there’s enough room in this world for cis men and women, tomboys, trans folk, and everyone else on that spectrum to find self-actualization. If you want to think a little more about your own relationship with gender, you might find this book a good starting point.

I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of Liz Prince’s books. She’s got a perspective that I can relate to but how she processes it is different enough that I’m able to learn from her. Her take on gender goes beyond both traditionalist and more liberal perspectives, and she defines her gender identity in an individualistic way that everyone could learn from.

Quote: In lieu of a quote, I thought a little snippet from the graphic novel would be more appropriate:

Image result for tomboy liz prince

Recommended: If you like graphic memoirs, which I am personally a big fan of, you might find this one both humorous and heartfelt. I haven’t read Prince’s book on her long-term relationship, Will You Still Love Me if I Wet the Bed?, but sure want to now. And, y’know, if you were a tomboy growing up (or still are) … this one might be a little cathartic for ya. All in all, highly recommended!

Next: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera