The art of being normal by Lisa Williamson is realist YA fiction. This novel approaches the topic of transgender and identity. It queries what normality means to society and to individuals who feel born into the wrong gender. Though this is its main theme, the context also sets up other themes such as teen popularity, relationships, courage and loyalty.
It follows the lives and secrets of year 10 and 11 pupils, David Piper and Leo Denton, two teenagers who meet through school.
David wants to be a girl and struggles with conflicting emotions and the onslaught of puberty. His parents suspect he is gay and he is afraid to tell them the truth. Leo is new to the school and has a secret of his own and tries (unsuccessfully) to be an invisible pupil. When Harry the school bully targets David, it is Leo who defends him. David and Leo then begin to develop a friendship of their own.
David’s family are loving and supportive, materially comfortable and want for nothing. Yet David is unable to talk to them about his transgender feelings for fear of their reaction. In contrast, Leo lives in a poorer area and has lost contact with his Dad. His mum drinks, stays out late and brings home different boyfriends. Leo has a twin sister Amber and a younger sister called Tia. It often falls on Leo to care for Tia. Yet Leo’s family are aware of his past experiences and offer support in a different way. I enjoyed the way each protagonist’s background threw up different dilemmas and this enriched the story and its plausibility.
The narrative is written in the first person and alternates between David and Leo. Both characters were likeable, but I found Leo’s story the more interesting and emotive out of the two. There is a twist within this story (that I won’t tell you) and I am torn as to whether it worked or not for me. I wasn’t one hundred percent it was plausible, but it does serve the rest of the plot. However, this aside, enough things happened to keep me interested and to keep moving the story forward.
I was keen to see how it would end and it was a little too squeakily optimistic for my liking, but satisfactory none the less. The narratives message of offering advice, hope -and ultimately- a big shout out to embracing diversity is heart-warming in itself.
The art of being normal is easily readable in its accessible down-to-earth style. It also has elements of the truth behind its storylines; Lisa Williamson spent time working in The Gender Identity Development Service (an NHS service that specialises in helping under-eighteens). This is an eye-opening debut novel, offering hope and a positive perspective on a contemporary topic that is still very much unexplored in teen fiction.