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 eleven 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…
Cover from Goodreads
You know when you start a book, don’t put it down, and then wish you could read it all over again as soon as you’ve turned the final page? Yup, well that’s how I felt after reading The Art of Being Normal. I picked up David and Leo’s story on holiday, and didn’t put it down until about three hours later, finishing up in the Cypriot sun with a huge smile on my face and a feeling that I had just experienced something really important.
Young adult books have been crying out for diverse protagonists, and The Art of Being Normal answers that call confidently. There is so much to love about this book. Williamson is a natural storyteller, and her ability to tackle big topics with empathy whilst still propelling the plot forward is the biggest success of the novel. The prose is sweet and funny, with dialogue that reads as if it actually has been written by a sixteen year old, albeit a very witty one.
Although the writing itself is light, the plot is one which took me on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Trying to be yourself in a society that doesn’t have a pre-defined box for you to tick is a terrifying thing, and TAOBN sensitively captures how hard it can be to be yourself. There were a couple of scenes (namely the bullying of David in the canteen) which were so incredibly raw that I physically winced. You know you’re onto an author with skill when you read something that makes you belly laugh on one page, before rendering you close to tears on the next.
I adored the characters, and enjoyed reading from both David and Leo’s perspectives. David is undeniably likeable, and his lust for life shines so brightly that I couldn’t help but smile along with him as he tries to infect the more secretive, mysterious Leo with his spark. Parents and supporting characters often seem to be curiously absent in contemporary YA books as the writer zeroes in on the development of the main character(s), but The Art of Being Normal bucks this trend, and there’s a real effort made to represent platonic friendships and family units. David and Leo have both had completely different upbringings, and it was really refreshing to see a spectrum of class and familial issues explored in a way that many people will be able to relate to.
Overall, the pacing was snappy and the dual perspective approach worked perfectly, allowing Williamson to explore the transgender story line with more depth. A++ for the distinction in font between Leo and David’s chapters, which kept me on focused on each character while I read. #ScatterBrain
Now, lets be up front here: I can’t speak about being a transgender person. I haven’t lived that experience, and I have no idea what it’s like to feel like I was born in the wrong body. But I can educate myself, I can advocate and I can feel. I strongly believe that the mark of a good book, YA or otherwise, is its ability to make you identify with and root for a character, even if they have walked in shoes you will never walk in yourself. The Art of Being Normal achieves this benchmark easily, and I came away feeling like I had learnt more than a few things about other people, and myself.
Ultimately, this is a book that I would recommend to everyone, no matter their age or how they identify. It deserves to read widely, and celebrated for all of its courage.
- Author: Lisa Williamson
- Release Date: 1st January 2015
- Publisher: David Fickling Books
- Pages: 353
- Rating: 4/5
- In short: Bold, brave and full of heart.