This Is How It Always Isby Laurie Frankel
“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/i>/i>/i>/i>/b>/i>/i>
“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.
Frankel's third novel is about the large, rambunctious Walsh-Adams family. While Penn writes his "DN" (damn novel) and spins fractured fairy tales from the family's ramshackle farmhouse in Madison, Wis., Rosie works as an emergency physician. Four sons have made the happily married couple exhausted and wanting a daughter; alas, their fifth is another boy. Extraordinarily verbal little Claude is quirky and clever, traits that run in the family, and at age three says, "I want to be a girl." Claude is the focus, but Frankel captures the older brothers' boyish grossness. She also fleshes out his two eldest brothers, who worry about Claude's safety when Rosie and Penn agree that Claude can be Poppy at school. But coming out further isolates this unique child. Encouragement from a therapist and an accepting grandma can go just so far; Poppy only blossoms after the Walsh-Adamses move to progressive Seattle and keep her trans status private, although what is good for Poppy is increasingly difficult on her brothers. The story takes a darker turn when she is outed; Rosie and her youngest must find their footing while Penn stays at home with the other kids. Frankel's (The Atlas of Love) slightly askew voice, exemplified by Rosie and Penn's nontraditional gender roles, keeps the narrative sharp and surprising. This is a wonderfully contradictory story—heartwarming and generous, yet written with a wry sensibility. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Jan.)
“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
“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 livein our homes, in our families, in our bodieswith 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
Rosie is a busy ER doctor; her husband, Penn, is a writer and stay-at-home father to their four sons. They welcome a fifth son to their boisterous family, and when Claude is three, he starts to wear dresses and says he wants to be a girl. Although his parents and older brothers unconditionally love and support the little one, now called Poppy, troubles arise in the wider world, even in their famously liberal hometown of Madison, WI, and later in Seattle, where they move when Poppy is ten. Then Rosie takes the unhappy and troubled child with her when she volunteers for a stint at a desperately poor clinic in the jungles of Thailand, which turns out to be a life-changing experience for them. In a letter to her readers, Frankel (The Atlas of Love; Goodbye for Now) explains that her own second-grader, born male, now identifies as a girl, so she writes her fictional story with some personal experience. VERDICT This novel offers a timely and thoughtful look at the life of a transgender child. It is also a touching and sympathetic account that is brimming with life and hard to put down.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
A big, brave, messy modern family struggles with the challenges of raising a transgender child. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know whats good and right and then to be able to make it happen. Ifyou make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your childs entire future and happiness is at stake. Claude Walsh-Adams is all of 3 years old when he announces what he wants to be when he grows upa girl. Its a particularly tricky case of be careful what you wish for for his doctor mom and novelist dad, already the parents of four boys when they roll the reproductive dice one last time. At home, barrettes and dresses are fine, but once he starts kindergarten as a boy, Claude becomes so miserable that, with the advice of a multi-degree-social-working-therapist-magician, his parents decide to let him become Poppy. So, gender dysphoria, says the bizarrely bouncy therapist. Congratulations to you both! Mazel tov! How exciting! The excitement takes a nasty turn when horrifying homophobic incidents convince Rosie that the family must leave Madison, Wisconsin, for the reputedly more enlightened Seattle, Washington. But rather than putting Seattles tolerance to the test, they keep Poppys identity a secret from even her closest friends, a decision that blows up in their faces when she hits puberty. Though well-plotted, well-researched, and unflaggingly interesting, the novel is cloying at times, with arch formulations, preachy pronouncements, and a running metafictional fairy tale. Its worth putting up with the occasional too-much-ism for all the rest of what bright, brave author Frankel (Goodbye for Now, 2012) has to offer as the mother of a transgender second-grader in real life. As thought-provoking a domestic novel as we have seen this year.
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Read an Excerpt
This Is How It Always Is
By Laurie Frankel
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2017 Laurie Frankel
All rights reserved.
Once Upon a Time, Claude Was Born
But first, Roo was born. Roosevelt Walsh-Adams. They had decided to hyphenate because — and in spite — of all the usual reasons but mostly so their firstborn could have his grandfather's name without sounding too presidential, which seemed to his parents like a lot of pressure for a six-pound, two-ounce, brand-new tiny human. First Roo was born, all pink and sticky and loud and miraculous. Then Ben was born. Then they debated and deliberated and decided just one more and therefore got twins — Rigel and Orion — who were no doubt going to voice hostility about their names when they became older than four, especially when Rigel found out he was named after the constellation's toe, but who for the moment were too little and too loud to care. The leap from two to four felt astronomical, so their parents had turned to the heavens.
All of which was why, despite being a woman of considerable science, a disciple of logic and reason, a person grounded firmly in the right half of her right mind, and besides all that a doctor who knew better, Rosie Walsh was spending the fifteen minutes immediately preceding the kickoff of Claude dragging her bed from its spot on the wall into the middle of the room so that it faced east-west rather than north-south. The Talmud, her mother reported, was very clear that many sons were born to a man whose bed was facing north, and though Rosie doubted it sincerely, along with most of what the Talmud offered, she couldn't take the chance. She'd also quietly served salmon to her husband for lunch and, though of course they were adults, chocolate-chip cookies, German folklore prescribing red meat and salty snacks for men in need of heirs and afternoon delight for those desirous of daughters. The same website also suggested putting a wooden spoon under the bed to conceive a girl, and she did, then felt like an idiot and threw it on the dresser then thought Penn would mock her — and rightly — if he saw it there so stashed it the only place close at hand: under the bed. Couldn't hurt.
The sources, dubious and dubiouser, also recommended missionary position, and she was happy to oblige. Missionary position was, as far as she could tell, like vanilla ice cream: purported to be boring and chosen only by passionless, unimaginative, exhausted people but really the best one. She liked to look at Penn's face so close that it split into pieces like a modernist painting. She liked the length of his front pressed against the length of hers. She felt that people who needed to do it upside down and backward from behind — or who added candied bacon or smoked sea salt or pieces of raw cookies to their ice cream — were probably compensating for a product that was inferior to begin with.
The dubious sources also recommended that the woman refrain from orgasm. But you could only take these things so far.
Once upon a time, Dr. Rosalind Walsh and her husband had had sex that started spontaneously and uncontrollably, sex that demanded itself, sex they had for any number of reasons but also because they really had no choice. Now, with four sons and two jobs, the sex was better but less inevitable. More evitable? Proceeded, in any case, by light planning and a conversation rather than the tearing off of clothing and slamming into walls. Rosie was working the night shift at the hospital that week. Penn worked from home. They ate lunch, and then he did some research for his book while she worked out, and then she got a spoon, pulled the bed into the center of the room, and took off all her clothes.
Penn sat on the edge of the bed, still wearing his reading glasses, still holding a highlighter in one hand and an article on World War II food shortages in the other. "The last thing I want to do is dissuade you from what's about to go down." He put away his article, took off his glasses and then his clothes, and climbed in next to her. "But you realize this is how we got into this mess in the first place."
"Trying for a girl?" It was true. A surely-this-time girl was how they'd talked themselves into more after Ben.
"Getting naked in the middle of the day," said Penn.
"What mess?" She smiled.
"Have you seen the rec room this week?"
"I never go in the rec room."
"Mess would be a generous term. Mess conveys the level of disaster but not the degree of danger. If the rec room were an airport, its security level would be red."
"Always," she said, kissing his mouth and then his neck and then his mouth some more.
"Always," he agreed, from around her tongue.
A short time later, but not too short, Claude happened, in the way these things do, though none of the three of them knew it at the time. It always struck Rosie that it would be a useful human evolution if the female could feel the sperm enter the egg. That way she could stop drinking and eating sushi and the good kind of cheese a whole month or more before she generally actually got around to doing so. Such an important part of life, conception, and you missed it altogether. Also once upon a time, sex was followed by napping in a heap together, tangled legs still tingling, or by deep, meaningful philosophizing late into the night, or sometimes by more sex. Now Penn fetched back his food shortages article and gave himself seven minutes to read it nakedly against the headboard before going down to start dinner for thirty-five minutes before driving to preschool to fetch Rigel and Orion. Rosie got dressed and then ready for work and then went to the bus stop to meet Roo and Ben. All the while, Claude worked quietly at becoming, first arriving together and then, in the days and weeks and months to come, dividing and dividing and dividing.
* * *
What people always said to Rosie was, "What are you, Catholic?" though without raising their voices at the end like you do when you're really asking a question. Or they said, pretending to be joking, "You know there are ways to prevent this sort of thing." Or they said, "Better you than me," which they needn't, since this was obviously true, or they said, "Are they all yours?" They all were. A mom at a PTA meeting the year before had taken Rosie aside to advise her not to tack condoms to a bulletin board next to the bed, no matter how convenient a storage solution that seemed, a lesson she confessed, nodding at a first-grader in the corner licking paste off his fingers, she had learned the hard way. Making a family seemed just as intimate to Rosie as the usual kickoff to that process and just as impolite to discuss — never mind openly judge — in polite conversation with acquaintances. But that's what happened to her, usually several times a week. And that's what was happening at the bus stop while she waited for Roo and Ben and one half of almost-Claude raced frantically for the other half.
"I don't know how you do it." Heather. Her neighbor. This was another thing people always said, criticism disguised as compliment.
Rosie laughed. Fake laughed. "Well. You know."
"No, I mean seriously." But she did not mean seriously. "I mean, I guess Penn doesn't have a job. But you do."
"Penn works from home," Rosie said. Again. This was not their first time through this particular conversation. They had it every time the bus was late. Which was every time it snowed. Which was every day some months. She thought Madison Wisconsin's Public Schools should specially train their bus drivers for snowy conditions — was this not just common sense? — but apparently she was all alone with this idea. Now it was September and hot and smelled like a late-afternoon thunderstorm, so who knew why the bus was late.
"I mean, I know he works." Heather started almost every sentence with "I mean," which Rosie felt was implied. "But it's not a job."
"Writing's a job." Penn's work in progress — he called it DN for Damn Novel — was not yet feeding them, but he wrote diligently, every day. "It's just not a nine-to-five sort of job."
"Does that really count?"
"My job isn't nine to five." She looked at her watch. In fact, she had to be at the hospital in just more than an hour. Night shifts were brutal but easier to schedule around. Sometimes, it was just less painful to forgo sleep than to try to find child care for all the early dismissals and vacations and holidays and staff developments and parent-teacher conference days. It was also true that nights in the ER were often more peaceful than nights at home with her family. Sometimes they even involved less blood.
"Yeah, but I mean, you're a doctor," Heather was saying.
"So doctor's a real job."
"So is writer."
"I don't know how you do it," Heather said again, shaking her head. And then added, giggling, "Or why."
In fact, how was an easier question than why. How was the same answer as it is for all impossible things you do anyway. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. All for one and one for all. Anyway, some cliché with the word "one" in it, ironic since it had been so long since she was just a one. She herded the boys — some of the boys — toward the car. If she was going to have to have this conversation with Heather at the bus stop every day, she might just start picking the kids up from school. Driving to and from the bus stop seemed absurd to her. Wasn't the point of the bus to bring kids from their home to the school? She loved their sprawling old farmhouse, their fifteen acres of rangy, overgrown land, going ceaselessly to seed. There was a barn that was only the memory of a barn, a stream that was mysterious and wet enough to be fun, but not deep or fast enough to worry about. The house was designed for a family of farmers, a family with lots of children who rose before dawn to help milk cows or slop livestock or whatever it was farm children did. Rosie and Penn had nothing to milk nor any animals beyond the puppy (Jupiter, a present for the twins' fourth birthday), but they did, more frequently than not, have children up before dawn. Those children needed lots of bedrooms, and the farmhouse had plenty, plus a perfect nursery off the master which smelled perpetually of talcum powder and was painted yellow, just in case the baby was a girl one of these days. The floors were not even. The walls were not soundproof. The water took a long time to be hot. But Rosie loved the rough-and-tumbleness of the house, which matched the rough-and-tumbleness of her family. Among other things, when the molding got nicked — and it did — no one cared. Some days though, plain old suburbia and a cul-de-sac at the top of which a bus stopped seemed easier. Some days, she just didn't have the energy. This day she felt tired. She didn't know why. But she needed to shake it off anyway. Her workday had not yet begun.
At home, she proceeded with the business of one foot, one day, one for all. Penn kissed the boys hello, kissed her goodbye, went off to fetch Rigel and Orion. She took over dinner prep — sautéing the vegetables Penn had chopped, seasoning the rice Penn had boiled, grilling the shrimp Penn had marinated. (She did not yet know that the racing-together Claude halves precluded any chance that avoiding red meat would beget a girl.) While the beans simmered, she emptied lunch boxes, checked folders, sorted forms. While the sauce reduced, she finished washing dishes from the night before. While she dried them, she interrupted the roller-skating contest Roo and Ben were holding in the living room three times. (It wasn't that she finally succeeded in getting them to stop. It was that she finally succeeded in not caring anymore.)
Then Roo set the table. Then Ben poured water into water glasses. Then Penn, Rigel, and Orion came back in, all three of them wet and emotional, Penn from the traffic, which he reported was a mess because of the thunderstorm, Rigel and Orion from something having to do with a sand table that Rosie couldn't make out but made sympathetic noises toward anyway. If traffic was bad, she needed to leave early for work. If she needed to leave early for work, she needed to leave now. Penn pulled the shrimp from the grill and the rice from the pot, threw both in with the vegetables in the wok, combined sauce and beans, and dumped some of all of the above into a giant to-go container, added a spoon, and shoved it into Rosie's hands as she checked to see how many of the many things she absolutely must not forget had actually made it into her bag. Some. She gave quick kisses all around and headed for the car. If traffic was as bad as Penn said, she'd be able to eat dinner on the way to the hospital.
That was how. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other. All for one. It wasn't so much that she and Penn had set out to practice Zen marriage equality and perfect-balance parenting. It was just that there was way more to do than two could manage, but by their both filling every spare moment, some of what needed to got done.
One good turn deserves another. Two heads are better than one.
Why was a harder question. Rosie thought about it all the way to the hospital, not that day, but 257 days later on the one when Claude was born. Labor had begun in earnest during dinner, though she'd known it was coming all morning and afternoon. Her feet itched peculiarly just before contractions started. She knew that sensation from long experience and had figured the baby would come the next day or even the one after that, so even though the contractions came closer and harder, she made dinner. But between passing the salad around and actually finishing the pasta, contractions had gone from every seven minutes to every three. Penn said, "So, how about dessert?" Rosie said, "Instead, maybe the hospital."
How they were going to get home was an open question, but for the moment, they all still fit in one car. Rosie installed herself in the front seat, calmly but with no little effort. Penn grabbed the bags. They weren't for Rosie, who needed so little. She had never been the type to prepare a soundtrack or a collage or a special pillow for the delivery room, but by now she realized that even the handful of things she'd brought the first few times were unnecessary. No, the bags were for her mother. They contained provisions to spend hours and perhaps days on end in a waiting room with four small, giddy boys — books, trains, LEGOs, glue sticks, juice boxes, granola bars, stuffies, blankies, and particular pillows. Rosie did not need a special pillow for the hospital. This was the difference between her and her sons.
One boy's trash is another boy's treasure. Back to square one.
All the way to the hospital while the kids sang Peter Pan in their car seats and boosters — their babysitter was starring in her high school musical — and Penn squeezed her hand and pretended, unsuccessfully, to be nonchalant by obeying all posted speed limits, and she resisted the temptation to tell him to hurry the hell up, Rosie was thinking one word over and over: Poppy. If the baby was a girl — and surely, surely it had to be: she had eaten fish and cookies; she had had sex in the afternoon facing east; she had done the thing with the spoon, and besides, it was her turn — she would name her Poppy.
They had had the name picked out from the first pregnancy. Rosie had had it for even longer, since one dark day sitting on her little sister's hospital bed while their parents were in the cafeteria taking a break. Rosie was braiding Poppy's wig hair and Poppy was braiding Poppy's doll's hair when she said, out of nowhere, "I'll never have a little girl whose hair I get to braid." Her voice was raspy. Rosie knew now it was from the chemotherapy, but at the time it seemed like something inside her little sister was fighting to get out — and winning — a goblin or a witch or a demon, something that was already breaking through in snatches here and there: a croaking voice, red rolling eyes, bruises that raised slowly then seemed to spread and multiply as if peeling back from a sea of purple skin roiling just beneath her ever more delicate surface. Rather than being frightened, Rosie found this idea comforting. She welcomed the demon on its way out of her sister because it was becoming increasingly clear that Poppy could not survive this terrible, unspeakable, unthinkable disease, but maybe the demon could. Demon Poppy seemed much stronger. Demon Poppy had more fight in her.
"Will you take care of Clover for me?" Poppy croaked. Like all the children in the Walsh home, Poppy's doll was named for a flower.
Rosie nodded. It was all she could manage. But then Poppy's regular voice came back: "Where should we go on vacation?"
"When I get out of here."
"I dunno." The only place they'd ever been on vacation so far was their grandparents' house, which smelled like basement. "Where do you want to go?"
"Siam," Poppy said immediately.
"Like The King and I." The hospital had a poorly stocked video library of which that was the highlight. And Poppy had a lot of lying-around time.
Excerpted from This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Copyright © 2017 Laurie Frankel. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
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Meet the Author
LAURIE FRANKEL is the author of the novels: This Is How It Always Is, The Atlas of Love, and Goodbye for Now. She lives in Seattle with her family.
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I loved "This is How It Always Is"! Any parent will be interested in the story of how a family raises a transgender child. It's funny, sad, touching, interesting and heartbreaking, all at the same time. It was a quick read, and because it is so beautifully written, I didn't want the story to end!
I can never take the review ratings seriously. All of the people who publish junk and silly messages for their friends to read need to stop using this rating system as a game. Barnes and Noble keep this a place where your customers can decide if they honestly want to purchase a product.