This is what I wrote:
I want to be a girl.
There’s been a lot of praise for the transgender content of The Art of Being Normal but I think it also deserves praise for depicting the class divide. David is from a pretty average YA background; middle class, living in a reasonable size house and provided with whatever he needs, be that material or emotional. Even if he is scared to tell his parents he wants to be a girl, there’s very little doubt in the reader’s mind, they would be accepting of him whoever he is. His mum is depicted as thinking he is gay and trying to let him know it’s OK to tell her.
Leo, on the other hand, livings on a rough council estate, with it comes a prejudice he can’t escape. Everyone at his new school assumes him to be violent, because that’s just what all kids from his previous school are like, right? He lives in a small house with his single mother and his two sisters. His mother is often absent and there’s barely anything in the cupboards to give them a full meal. Leo takes on a lot of responsibility of looking after his little sister, something that is more common than we’d like to think amongst teens.
Because ‘normal’ kids don’t have six files’ worth of notes on them. ‘Normal’ kids don’t see therapists. ‘Normal’ kids don’t have mothers like mine, who tell you life isn’t fair with messed-up glee, like the unfairness of life is pretty much the only thing they know for sure. I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m the opposite of ‘normal’.
Leo is desperate to find his dad, knowing in his heart that it was all his mum’s fault for messing it up, look at the state of her after all, and he will be welcomed with open arms. As the story progresses, you realise his mum does care, has done a lot for him, but must also be living under a lot of stress. She’s not perfect, and it’s great to see that imperfect family dynamic in fiction.
David’s really sweet and puppy like. I’m glad there was the switch between narrators as you need something to balance him out. His story is a lot like that of many teenagers, whether transgender or cisgender, not fitting in and being bullied at school. He’s different and he’s picked on for that. How many of us are ‘normal’ anyway? What is being normal?
The part that really struck me was David’s measurements, the fear of becoming a man. I’ve seen much more in the media about transgender kids lately, and hormone blocking, but I had never thought how awful adolescence must be when your body is turning into the wrong sex. He looks for signs of his Adam’s apple showing, facial hair, and worst of all penis growth. He actively wishes his penis to be smaller, that’s not the attitude of a cisgender boy. I really felt for him.
Besides, who wants to be normal anyway? Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.
I’ve used the pronouns and names given at the start of the book.
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Also reviewed @ Pretty Books | ShrinaAlpha
Book Source: Purchased
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