The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (proof/reading copy) - Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. Her parents think she’s gay. The school bully thinks she’s a freak. Only her two best friends know the real truth – David is a trans girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.
When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long… From Goodreads, edited to correct misgendering.
I first heard about The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson when Jim of YA Yeah Yeah, raved to me about it, but for some reason, it didn't really appeal to me. It's only when I arrived to work one day and was told a reading copy had been left for me that I really took an interest. Being a 2015 YA debut, I saved it to read until this year, and wow. This book is really worth all the buzz you're hearing!
David (who is later Kate, but David for most of the novel) is a girl, but she's yet to find the courage to tell anybody other that Essie and Felix, her two best friends. With a body that doesn't match her gender identity, she hates the way she looks, and only sometimes lets the real her shine through. Leo starts Eden Park with a history full of secrets and pain. All he wants to do is fly under the radar, get through this final year, then move the hell away for college. But he's come to school with a reputation, and everyone is talking about him. When David is being picked on by the school bully, Leo can't help but defend her, and people start talking even more. So much for going unnoticed. David is so grateful that Leo helped her out, and soon a friendship forms - one that is going to change both their lives.
The Art of Being Normal is a good book, although problematic due to the misgendering of David. The thing that I loved the most about The Art of Being Normal is it's not about being transgender. It's about two individual characters, and their friendship. Unlike other transgender stories I've read, there isn't a whole lot about what it means to be transgender, how that feels. It's there, it's just not the main focus of the story. David is transgender, not a lot of people know about it, and that's the stage in her life that she's in. The fact that's she's transgender is important to the story, because it's important to her identity, but, for David, it's more about her as an individual person. Everyone's lives, everyone's experiences are different. People who have read the story may disagree with me, but I can't explain myself further here without spoiling the story.
So, David goes to school with her two friends, and tries hard to ignore the comments she always gets. Most people call her "Freak Show", and she gets a lot of grief. She is bullied quite a bit, and it's really bloody awful, the extent to which some of it goes. The incident where Leo defends her, before he steps in, I was just dying inside on David's behalf for the utter humiliation David is put through. It's absolutely disgusting, and that all these people were either just standing around laughing and enjoying it all, or keeping their heads down and not getting involved had me fuming! It's not until Leo steps in and punches Harry, the bully, that anything stops. Nobody else does a thing. And it kills me.
Leo doesn't have a great life. His dad isn't around, and his mother is pretty useless and treats him like crap. He lives in a really rough town, and just wants to escape. Something happened earlier in the year that we don't know about, that has led him to move to Eden Park. Questions and rumours are flying all over the place. Eden Park is a very good school, and it has a zero policy for violence, and simply wouldn't take on a violent student - yet the rumours all say that Leo was expelled for sawing off a teacher's finger. So what's the truth? What is he really doing at Eden Park? I have to say I really didn't see his secret coming. Once I found out, and I looked back on all the little hints, I thought, "Of course!" but I just didn't see it before then.
The friendship between Leo and David is a really sweet one. I kept forgetting throughout the story that David is only 14, that she turned 14 at the very beginning of the book, and she can come across a little young sometimes. There were a few eye-roll inducing moments, but then I would remember her age, and let her off. Leo is 15, but in his final year, so he will be 16 soon, so their friendship is a little unlikely. They're different ages, they live completely different lives and have different interests, and Leo only grudgingly starts being friends with David when she asks him to tutor her in Maths. They slowly get to know each other, and towards the end of the book, they really make a difference to each other's lives. It's a really beautiful friendship!
The Art of Being Normal is such a really sweet book, but, as David is referred to with the wrong pronouns throughout the book, a problematic one due to the misgendering problems.
Thank you to David Fickling Books via Foyles for the reading copy.
Published: 1st January 2015
Publisher: David Fickling Books
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