When eight-year-old David Piper was asked to write about what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wrote about wanting to be a girl. Jump forward five and half years and David’s nickname with the class bully is still “Freak Show” and only his two closest friends know that his wish from all of those years ago still rings true. David just doesn’t know how to tell his parents.
Enter Leo Denton, a transfer to Eden Park School from the far side of town, with rumors that he was kicked out of his last school for doing something violent. An unlikely friendship develops between Leo and David after Leo stands up for the bullied David. But Leo has his own secrets, and most people don’t know the truth about why he left Cloverdale School. As Leo and David both reckon with their own secrets, they learn more about themselves and what their own definition of “normal” might be.
The Art of Being Normal is told in intermixed chapters from both main characters’ perspectives. It’s a story about being a transgender teenager, but it’s also just a story about the search for identity and sense of self that many teenagers face. David and Leo are both likable and real – they have their faults, but they are both trying really hard to be the best version of themselves that they can be. Williamson’s writing doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of life as a transgender teenager, but she tells the story with so much hope that I was grinning by the end.
Williamson herself is not transgender, but was inspired to write The Art of Being Normal after working for two years as an administrator in a center that worked with transgender teens in London. This book felt like a very honest portrayal of trans teenagers, and while David’s struggles may not be anything new to trans teens reading this, they could provide helpful insight for those wanting to learn more about (one version of) the struggles trans teenagers face. The Art of Being Normal is a heartwarming book that I would especially recommend to anyone looking for more LGBT fiction, but really to anyone who enjoys YA coming of age stories.
The Art of Being Normal has been previously released in the UK, but was just released May 31st in the U.S. Netgalley provided an ebook copy for this review. If you want to get your hands on a copy, you can order it from Indiebound, Powell’s, or request it from your local library!