You must have heard about The Art of Being Normal by now and, if not, I’m not sure how you have managed to miss it. Published on 1st January, it’s one of the most talked about UKYA novels published this year so far, and has certainly set a high standard.
Fourteen-year-old David Piper has only told two people – his two best friends, Essie and Fox, who have both been incredibly supportive – that he has wanted, needed, to be a girl ever since he was a small child. David has written a letter to his parents explaining how he feels but cannot bring himself to give it to them. He already suspects that they think he’s gay, but he’s not ready tell them the whole story just yet. And he’s certainly not going to tell anyone else at school – he’s already being called a freak show. David meets newcomer Leo Denton on his first day at Eden Park School. He walks over to him even though Leo doesn’t seem to want to talk to anyone at all, let alone make friends. When the school bully just won’t leave David alone, Leo steps in, and now David just has to get to know him. But Leo’s had to move schools for a reason and David’s about to be the first one to discover why.
I’ve been reading a lot of American young adult contemporary novels lately and so it was a bit of a shock to step into such an obviously English voice, even though I knew The Art of Being Normal was UKYA. It made me realise how much I miss it. I don’t know why (are we really that different?), but even though the world of school and the struggles of growing up are essentially the same across the pond, UKYA just makes teenage life feel that little more vivid and relatable. But what is normal, huh?
I have yet to meet someone who didn’t enjoy The Art of Being Normal. It has a brilliant – as well as important – title because it’s not an ‘issues’ book. It’s not really about being transgender, but is a story that just happens to have a transgender character. David doesn’t feel like he’s not normal, he’s just trying to find a way to communicate that to everyone else. It’s about what it’s like to grow up, make friends and deal with family. It’s about class and identity, and how people are perceived by others. It’s all heightened when you are a teenager because it’s difficult not to care less; you can’t live on your own and you can’t do what you want. It can be quite suffocating, so it’s helpful to hear stories about teenagers going through the same experiences as you.
The Art of Being Normal is one of the first books I’ve read that talks about transgender lives. Lisa Williamson not only writes an incredible contemporary novel, full of laughs and emotion, but also a responsible and respectful one. If you’ve never read a book that talks about being transgender, if you want to read more diversely, or if you just want a realistic, empathetic coming-of-age story, pick up The Art of Being Normal and start to dismantle the definition of ‘normal’ bit by bit.
Published: 1st January 2015
Publisher: David Fickling Books