Title: The Art of Being Normal
Author Name & Publisher: Lisa Williamson (David Fickling Books)
Publication Date & Length: January 1st 2015- 298 pages
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 . . .
I always appreciate seeing more trans fiction, particularly YA. For the most part, this is a good read, with flawed-but-likable characters and a plot which doesn’t solely revolve around being trans (though that does play a big part).
It’s difficult to review this without spoilers because the things I liked most and least about this book are things which can’t be fully explained due to the surprises. I can say that I loved the end and found the resolution to several things to be satisfying and hopeful.
The novel switches first-person POV between David and Leo. Of the two, I found myself able to relate more to David, but I sense many readers will feel a stronger connection to Leo. That’s as it should be and is a sign of strong writing and characters who aren’t flat or stereotypes.
The biggest hesitation I had (and for me, this is major–it may not be nearly as much an issue for other readers) was the “surprise twist” with Leo. First of all, I had both his secrets pretty much worked out toward the beginning. Second, I really dislike when an author uses a vital part of a first-person character’s life as a surprise for readers. It comes across as being played for shock value (even if this is not the intent). The story would not have changed at all if readers had known up front about Leo. Every single other thing would have remained identical, so I feel no need for that to have been a revelation to readers 2/3 of the way through the story, especially given that we knew David’s big secret just about on page 1. It’s even more mystifying when I consider the fact that there’s an even more significant (and emotionally impacting) revelation later in the story.
Despite that, I still think this is a good read, probably more aimed at people who are not trans but want to understand the experience many trans teens have in a world where they are at least to a degree able to come out at younger ages than in past generations.