It’s such an honor to share an interview with Laurie Frankel today and hear more about her incredible novel, This is How it Always Is. I have heard so much buzz about this book that I couldn’t wait to share it with you today so you could read it too. If I was going to select a solid book club choice that would get everyone talking, this would be top on my list this year.
In light of all that is happening in this world, it is an eye-opening novel about parenting a child who struggles with gender identity and how one fictional family navigates the world to help their child live in a place of compassion, joy, and acceptance. Perhaps, we see this more as a news headline issue, a debate about bathrooms, or an issue for others.
This book gives the reader the chance to slip into a family’s life that mirrors your own and see what it would be like if that was your son or daughter.
It gives you the chance to read from a different perspective. Perhaps, it changes a viewpoint!
This fictional story is about a little boy named Claude who knows that, more than anything, he wants to grow up to be a girl.
Lucky for Claude, he has two parents who deeply desire for him to be happy and it is with his happiness in mind that they work together to help Claude be who he is. When they feel Claude’s happiness is at stake, they decide to move to a town who will be more open to who he is and Claude becomes Poppy.
Their new friends and neighbors do not know about Claude and it is a secret that they keep to protect her. The question becomes, what happens when people find out and what’s next for Poppy?
Frankel shares that she is the mother of a little boy who is now a girl, but reassures readers this is not their story, but a fictional story to discuss more of a broader social issue that roads are not always clearly defined for each child when it comes to gender.
Let’s chat with Laurie this morning over that mug of coffee !
Parenting is hard and I often reflect on how I wish I would have handled tough situations with our kids in better ways. Rosie & Penn, the parents in this beautiful story, seem to offer all the right types of love and support for their child as he struggles with gender identity. Since your child faced similar issues, were these responses how you also reacted or was this more of a reflection on how you wished you could have responded in those moments?
Ha! What a good question. It’s true that made up parents are often more patient than actual ones, but then it’s also true that made up kids are often better behaved. In fact, the struggles the parents and the children face in This Is How It Always Is are themselves mostly made up, never mind their reactions. We’ve been very lucky in that my child’s transition hasn’t necessitated much struggle or strife — for her, for her family and friends, at school, or in her community — so the challenges both the kids and the parents face and respond to in the book are all made up.
Poppy’s parents begin to explore other areas in the world to find places that can accept Poppy for who she is from Seattle to Thailand. I know your family resides in Seattle, but how did you make the discovery that Thailand was so open and welcoming in this way?
There are in fact a lot of cultures — including Native cultures in the United States — that embrace and celebrate a third gender or a non-binary concept of gender. Thailand is one of many. I originally thought the characters might drive cross country rather than going halfway around the world, but in addition to its openness to its transgender citizens, Thailand is also Buddhist, and because (as you note in the next question) I wanted to talk about gender as something other than black and white, the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way became paramount.
Your exploration of gender identity is an unusual one because you are really showcasing that gender identity does not need to be a black or white issue. For example, not every child needs to make life-altering decisions, like involving medical or surgical intervention, right away. What message do you hope your readers will walk away with from this family’s fictional journey?
For me, the message is in the title: this is how it always is. Most kids aren’t transgender, but most kids are gender nonconforming — sometimes, in some ways — and all kids are sometimes nonconforming and sometimes don’t fit in and sometimes face challenges. And all parents want to love and help their kids, and no parents always know the best way to go about doing so. We make the best decisions we can and amend as necessary. This is how it always is — and not any more so or any scarier for transgender kids and their families than for any others.
I do also believe that the more and more quickly we stop thinking about gender — and most things — as either-or, black-or-white, the better the world becomes for all of us.
Poppy did not disclose her gender to her closest friends and her family chose to keep this a secret and live her life as a girl. Do you think keeping this secret is wrong?
Nope, I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s hard. Transgender kids and their families face tough questions when they meet new people. Their bodies are no one else’s business, and yet their histories and identities are important and to be celebrated. For most people, those two notions aren’t in conflict. When they are, no choice is wrong, and all choices are difficult in different ways.
In this difficult political climate, how can we be true and kind advocates for transgender or gender nonconforming children and their families?
Love them. Celebrate them. Let them be who they are. Don’t rush them. Don’t judge them. Don’t assume. Make sure they know whoever they are and however they are is normal and awesome and a great way to be. And I’d expand that from gender nonconforming to nonconforming period. It might also be useful to remember that the world urgently faces many complex, critical problems at the moment, and where people go to the bathroom just isn’t one them.
The cover of your book is beautiful. What does the orange peel on your cover symbolize?
Ooh, thank you. I love it, but I can’t take credit for it. That cover is entirely down to the geniuses at Flatiron Books. I think the orange peel makes you think about insides versus outsides, about layers, about what’s on top and what’s underneath and which is important and which can just be peeled away.
I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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