This Is How It Always Is (Paperback)
Flatiron Books, 9781250088567, 336pp.
Publication Date: January 23, 2018
New York Times Bestseller
The Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick
“Every once in a while, I read a book that opens my eyes in a way I never expected.” —Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine book pick)
People Magazine’s Top 10 Books of 2017
Amazon’s Best Books of 2017: Top 20
Amazon’s Best Literature and Fiction of 2017
Bustle’s 17 Books Every Woman Should Read From 2017
PopSugar’s Our Favorite Books of the Year (So Far)
Refinery29's Best Books of the Year So Far
BookBrowse’s The 20 Best Books of 2017
Pacific Northwest Book Awards Finalist
The Globe and Mail's Top 100 Books of 2017
Longlisted for 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award
“It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think.” —Liane Moriarty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Little Lies
This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.
This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.
Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.
About the Author
Praise For This Is How It Always Is: A Novel…
“It’s early days, but this big-hearted novel about a family with a transgender child is in the lead for the most sensitively and sincerely told story of 2017…Frankel’s portrayal of even the most openhearted parents’ doubts and fears around a child’s gender identity elevates this novel.”
—People, “Book of the Week”
“Deeply satisfying…An intimate family story…Day-to-day parenting dilemmas are where Frankel shines.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Brave, complicated, occasionally horrifying and frequently very funny…Frankel is a first-rate storyteller."
“Frankel has tackled this controversial topic in a warm, funny and honest way and one that will undoubtedly spark thought and conversation.”
—The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Frankel’s writing is witty and wise, and her characters are reminiscent of those in family capers such as the film The Royal Tenenbaums or Commonwealth, Ann Patchett’s recent novel about an eclectic brood…This is a fascinating, gut-wrenching, timely and enjoyable read—and a must for your next book-club discussion.”
“This Is How It Always Is isn’t only a novel about the challenges of life with an atypical child. It’s a story about the challenges of parenting and love, period...This beautiful story is deeply personal, a heart-rending glimpse of an author writing her way to understanding.”
“A novel of great empathy and compassion that transcends politics…This is a family that you will take into your heart and—like all friends—you will welcome the changes that they bring to your life.”
—The Seattle Review of Books
“Sly and charming…Comes at the perfect time…This Is How It Always Is explores the travails of a modern family, where challenges about a child’s gender are the same as any other struggles of growing up.”
“A bold, honest, heartbreaking story about the choices parents make, and how life goes on, but not always according to plan. This must-read novel… is the perfect pick for book clubs.”
“One of the most timely and big-hearted family stories I have read in a long time…This is a beautiful novel about the unexpected curve balls of parent and sibling relationships, and the limitless boundaries of family love.”
“This wise and often funny novel is a compassionate lesson in discovering and welcoming what makes each of us unique.”
“Illuminatingly nuanced and heartfelt, This Is How It Always Is is the story of how a family evolves—and grows—together."
“Sharp and surprising. This is a wonderfully contradictory story—heartwarming and generous, yet written with a wry sensibility.”
—Publishers Weekly ("Pick of the Week," starred review)
"Well-plotted, well-researched, and unflaggingly interesting...As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year."
—Kirkus (starred review)
“I was lucky enough to receive an advance reading copy of this very special book about a family with a secret. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think. Preorder your copy now.”
—Liane Moriarty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Truly Madly Guilty
“Laurie Frankel writes with more heart than anyone I can think of...With emotional acuity, admirable bravery, utter compassion, and complete understanding, she’s created a family attempting to forge a path through one of life’s most mystifying challenges: how to define what it is that makes your child who he or she is: unique, beloved, and whole. This is a novel everyone should read. It’s brilliant. It’s bold. And it’s time.”
—Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Banquet of Consequences
“In This is How It Always Is, Laurie Frankel spins a beguiling tale of a sprawling, loving, ever-changing, unconventional, and yet completely typical modern family as they make their way though a world with no easy answers and no magic solutions. How does Frankel pull off such a story? With great humor and candor. With a powerful narrative voice, and a forthrightness so compelling, we are drawn into the family circle to laugh and cry with them, and to ponder issues great and small. An intimate, wonderfully moving novel that is especially relevant in today’s world.”
—Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of A Sudden Light and The Art of Racing in the Rain
“This is a perfect book club book, a book that should be read in schools, and one of my favorite reads of the year. A challenging subject handled with honesty, grace, humor, dignity, and most of all, love.”
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“A lively and fascinating story of a thoroughly modern family and the giant, multifaceted love that binds them. This Is How It Always Is sparkles with wit and wisdom.”
—Maria Semple, New York Times bestselling author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
“Laurie Frankel has written one of those very rare, special novels that examines the way we live—in our homes, in our families, in our bodies—with an astonishing balance of humor, complexity, and above all, kindness. This Is How It Always Is teaches us to look beyond the traditional binary oppositions of boy vs. girl, right vs. wrong, real vs. make-believe, and to find courage and beauty in the in-between.”
—Ruth Ozeki, New York Times bestselling author of A Tale for the Time Being
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. How do the epigraphs help prepare the reader for the many crossroads the Walsh-Adams family will have to face? What about the first word of the novel, “but”?
2. When Rosie and Penn first go to see Mr. Tongo about Claude, he asks them to divide behaviors into “boy” and “girl” columns. Do you think their conclusions are accurate? Are they fair? Discuss what you think it means to be a man, a woman, or “something else.”
3. In what ways does the book tackle typical definitions of boys and girls, men and women? Did it change your view of gender and identity as you read?
4. When Rosie first takes Poppy on playdates with other girls, the moms begin telling her how brave she is. “Rosie appreciated the support but wasn’t sure parenting ever really qualified as brave—or maybe it always did—because it’s not like you had a choice.” How are each of the characters brave? Discuss how (or if) parenting requires acts of bravery.
5. When Claude begins to voice his love of dresses, Rosie tells us, “Didn’t you know then, the doctors said later? Weren’t you listening?” Do you think our expectations of people, such as Rosie and Penn’s expectations of Claude, get in the way of us actually listening to them? Knowing them?
6. After Jane Doe’s trauma, Rosie thinks, “Head colds should be tolerated. Children should be celebrated.” What is the difference between tolerance and acceptance? Acceptance and celebration? Discuss how language, down to the pronouns we use, affects the way we interact with people different from ourselves.
7. When Rosie feels guilt for forcing Roo to move, Carmelo tells her, “Parents choose one kid over another all the time.” Do you agree with this statement? How about Rosie’s earlier conclusion that “of course you could uproot a whole family of seven for the needs of just one of them because that’s what family means”?
8. “They never planned to keep Claude a secret. It was an accident. It was an accident plus opportunity plus special circumstances.” Do you think Penn and Rosie are hypocrites for keeping Poppy’s secret, and expecting the rest of the family to do the same? Are they truly to blame, or was the secret forced on all of them?
9. After Poppy’s secret is revealed, Rosie and Penn have an argument about how to move forward. Penn says, “As parents, we make a thousand decisions a year with life altering impact whose implications our kids couldn’t possibly get their heads around. That’s our job. That’s what parenting is.” Rosie counters with, “She’s got to be lost for a bit, and she can’t be lost if we’re leading her out of the woods.” Where do you fall in this argument?
10. When Rosie and Penn discuss what course Poppy should take before puberty, Rosie says: “When a little girl wants to wear jeans and play soccer, her parents are thrilled, but when a little boy wants to wear a dress and play dolls, his parents send him to therapy and enroll him in a study.” Are young boys more constrained by gender stereotypes than young girls? Does the weight of gendered expectations shift from one gender to another as we grow up? If so, when? Consider what Rosie says just a few pages later: “You think Poppy would be the only woman to hate the way she looks? All women hate the way they look.”
11. When Rosie speaks to Mr. Tongo after Poppy is outed, he tells her: “For you, Poppy with a penis isn’t any more or less variant than any of your other kids’ wonderful quirks, and you love them all no matter what, and you just wake every day and raise them up. But that doesn’t help Poppy live anywhere in the world besides your house. No wonder she won’t leave her bedroom.” Did Rosie and Penn contribute to Poppy’s identity crisis by sheltering her from judgment?
12. In what ways are we as a society trapped in gender stereotypes? Do we make children less free by assigning them a label, and things to go with that label, so early in life? Discuss the differences in freedom experienced by Americans and Thai people as shown in the novel.
13. Discuss the ways in which Rosie and Claude discover both their immense privilege and their forced conformity when they get to know Thai culture and people.
14. In the penultimate, fairy tale chapter, the witch tells Grumwald that he must share his story, that “story is the best magic there is.” What is the importance of sharing stories? Do secrets have their place as well, or do you agree that “secrets make everyone alone”?
15. Think about the standard fairy tale structure—in what ways is this novel a fairy tale? Is it the tale of Penn and Rosie, or Poppy? Their family? Or do you consider it another kind of story altogether?
16. When Penn decides to box up the family photos after their move, he does so because “Poppy’s childhood did matter, and so did Claude’s, but Penn bubble wrapped them all back up anyway until he could find a way to tell this story.” With the publication of The Adventures of Grumwald and Princess Stephanie, does he succeed in telling their family story? What do you think of his choice to make their story public?
17. When comforting Poppy, Ben says, “Fitting in and being normal doesn’t exist.” How does the novel continuously challenge the idea of “normal”?