The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson


Update: I did actually go back and finish this book after writing this review, and I did like like it overall, though my issues with it still stand.


WARNING: Spoilers below

This is the first book ever that I’m writing a review for that I did not finish. I know, I’ve probably broken some sort of sacred code of book reviewers, but I read about 60% of this book, and couldn’t continue anymore, okay? And the thing is, I really liked it until about the 50% mark, where a “plot twist” ruined it for me. So, although I make it a point never to write spoiler reviews, I couldn’t find a way to properly rant without being specific about what I’m ranting about. Proceed at your own risk.

Final Warning: Spoilers below

The Art of Being Normal is a book about David, a transgender teen who hasn’t yet come out about his identity as a girl (since David is still a guy for the majority of this novel, I will be referring to him as a he). It’s also about Leo, the new, brooding boy with a past that’s new to school. Sounds like a typical romance with LGBT, right?

But before I proceed any further, let me establish that I am nothing but fully and completely supportive of the LGBT community. Being a cisgender reader myself, I’m sure that some of my opinions may come from a place of ignorance, but I genuinely mean no harm to anyone. There are so few books about transgender kids in YA, and I fully appreciate this book for being one of the first to depict the struggles of being a transgender teen. Any complaints that are to come only come from a place of loving support and a wish for things to be represented better. I do not want for anyone to take offense to anything I say in this review.

With that said, I’m going to continue with what my opinion of this book is. David is a genuinely an adorable character, and of the few YA transgender books I’ve read, I’ve never read about this perspective, being on the other side of coming out about your gender identity and the struggles that ensue. I would have easily read a book where the entire book was just about David and his friendships and struggles.

However, my problems with this book lie with Leo. Leo is honestly a rather appealing character, and I’m sure I could have also read a book purely about him. However, it’s revealed halfway through the book that Leo is transgender as well, and while I normally wouldn’t have had a problem with this, I thought the way the twist was executed cheapened the entire novel.

I understand how difficult it is to be transgender, and am appalled at the injustices the members of the LGBT community face, but by making Leo being transgender a big reveal, it appeared to me that he was only transgender for the sake of a reveal. Not to mention, by hiding any signs of him struggling with his gender identity (so the readers could be surprised later), we never got to see any of his struggles and thus his character became cheapened.

Afterwards, when all was revealed to David regarding Leo, it was like, “Great-we’re buddies now” and not at all what a book about two different transgender stories should have been like. I feel there was a missed opportunity here to create something profound and meaningful about the deep psychological struggles with gender identity these two teens would face. Instead, we have characters that are transgender simply for a plot twist and don’t actually provide too much insight otherwise.

But when all’s said and done, this was a sweetish novel that did provide a unique perspective on being transgender that is seldom represented in YA. While I had some issues with it, I am always open to clarification and explanations so that I can become a more educated person.