Get insights into the captivating novel “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel with my exclusive interview. Learn more from the author for your book club
If I selected a book club book that would get everyone talking, this would be top on my list.
This eye-opening novel is 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.
This is How it Always Is gives the reader a glimpse into the completely typical modern family experience and what this path through one’s life might look like as a parent of a transgender child and as a child themselves. It’s a bold, honest heartbreaking story, offering gentle prose for the reader.
Let’s get into it!
Laurie Frankel Interview (This is How it Always Is) Exclusive
Parenting is hard, and I often reflect on how I wish I would have handled challenging 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 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 discover 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 showcases 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, 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. Tell me more about this decision.
Transgender kids and their families face tough questions when they meet new people. Their bodies are no one else’s business, 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 genuine 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.
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