Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Young adult fiction (contemporary)
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More: Goodreads

You must have heard about The Art of Being Normal by now and, if not, I’m not sure how you have managed to miss it. Published on 1st January, it’s one of the most talked about UKYA novels published this year so far, and has certainly set a high standard.

Fourteen-year-old David Piper has only told two people – his two best friends, Essie and Fox, who have both been incredibly supportive – that he has wanted, needed, to be a girl ever since he was a small child. David has written a letter to his parents explaining how he feels but cannot bring himself to give it to them. He already suspects that they think he’s gay, but he’s not ready tell them the whole story just yet. And he’s certainly not going to tell anyone else at school – he’s already being called a freak show. David meets newcomer Leo Denton on his first day at Eden Park School. He walks over to him even though Leo doesn’t seem to want to talk to anyone at all, let alone make friends. When the school bully just won’t leave David alone, Leo steps in, and now David just has to get to know him. But Leo’s had to move schools for a reason and David’s about to be the first one to discover why.

I’ve been reading a lot of American young adult contemporary novels lately and so it was a bit of a shock to step into such an obviously English voice, even though I knew The Art of Being Normal was UKYA. It made me realise how much I miss it. I don’t know why (are we really that different?), but even though the world of school and the struggles of growing up are essentially the same across the pond, UKYA just makes teenage life feel that little more vivid and relatable. But what is normal, huh?

I have yet to meet someone who didn’t enjoy The Art of Being Normal. It has a brilliant – as well as important – title because it’s not an ‘issues’ book. It’s not really about being transgender, but is a story that just happens to have a transgender character. David doesn’t feel like he’s not normal, he’s just trying to find a way to communicate that to everyone else. It’s about what it’s like to grow up, make friends and deal with family. It’s about class and identity, and how people are perceived by others. It’s all heightened when you are a teenager because it’s difficult not to care less; you can’t live on your own and you can’t do what you want. It can be quite suffocating, so it’s helpful to hear stories about teenagers going through the same experiences as you.

The Art of Being Normal is one of the first books I’ve read that talks about transgender lives. Lisa Williamson not only writes an incredible contemporary novel, full of laughs and emotion, but also a responsible and respectful one. If you’ve never read a book that talks about being transgender, if you want to read more diversely, or if you just want a realistic, empathetic coming-of-age story, pick up The Art of Being Normal and start to dismantle the definition of ‘normal’ bit by bit.

Published: 1st January 2015
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Pages: 368

Behold the Pretty Books! / January (So Far) Book Haul

23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

  1. This books sounds amazing – and I have to admit I am one of those who hadn’t heard of it! But I’m definitely going to check it out.

  2. I’ll have to join the line of shame and admit that I hadn’t heard about “The Art of being Normal”, but your review really makes me want to run to Waterstones and get a copy 🙂

  3. Great review! I, actually, have not yet heard much about this book, probably because a lot of people in the US aren’t talking about it YET. But you’ve convinced me to check it out 🙂 Have a wonderful day x

  4. This book sounds so good. I really need to read it! Great review!

  5. I really want to check this book out! It sounds so wonderful. Great review, I loved it!

  6. I was on the hunt everywhere for this book until I found out it’s a UK publication, not even available in the US. Although there appears to be a similar title out called Gracefully Grayson. So good to see transgender represented in fiction!!

  7. Hmm. This book does sound fantabulous!

  8. This was a great review! I’d heard of this book but somehow, I never stopped to think that there would be any significant difference between US and UK YA. Since this one more or less summed up UK teenage life for you, what would you rec in terms of US teenage life?

    • I wouldn’t necessary say it ‘summed up’ teenage life in the UK – more that I could recognise some experiences of growing up and dealing with family/school life, which I don’t often feel while reading US fiction, due to obviously being more familiar with British culture and the things we say. I’m afraid I wouldn’t really know which books that portray teenage life in the US accurately!

  9. Thank you for this brilliant review. I’ve also read and reviewed this book on my blog and I’m in total agreement about the ‘English’ voice! It just has a certain charm doesn’t it?!

  10. […] The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson If you’ve never read a book that talks about being transgender, if you want to read more diversely, or if you just want a realistic coming-of-age story, pick up The Art of Being Normal and start to dismantle the definition of ‘normal’ bit by bit. […]

  11. […] saw Pretty Books’ fabulous review of this book, and I am now really interested in this book! I’ve never read a book with a […]

  12. Nice review!!! This book gave me a very pleasant and refreshing surprise.

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