I’m not a parent, but I think I have a pretty good understanding of how difficult it can be. That is until I read something like This Is How It Always Is, where I’m completely humbled by the momentous responsibility of parenting and the sheer awe of child development.
In the beginning of This Is How It Always Is, Rosie and Penn have four sons and a modern outlook on life. Living in Wisconsin, Rosie is an ER doctor who supports the family financially while her husband Penn, a writer, takes care of the children and household. They wanted a big family, and Rosie hoped for a little girl of her own- especially because she wanted to pass on the name of her dear sister who passed away young. So Rosie put every superstitious trick she knew to work, from the direction of the bed to a wooden spoon under it, in the hopes that if and when she conceived, it would be a girl.
Alas, Claude, the fifth bouncing baby boy, was born. However, as Claude aged, Rosie and Penn could tell he was different from his big brothers. Claude was very intelligent and able to communicate his emotions and observations at a very early age, and by the time he was pre-school age, had declared that he wanted to be a girl. Rosie and Penn wanted Claude to be whoever he wanted to be, so they allowed him to express his wishes to be a girl by wearing dresses, growing his hair out, and playing with traditionally female toys. Then, when it was time to send Claude to school, Rosie and Penn decided to shelter Claude some, hoping to prevent bullying and questioning of Claude’s gender identity. However, this confused and depressed Claude, so Rosie and Penn, as well as a therapist, decided that it was best to let Claude make the decision on how he wanted to dress and present himself in school. From there, Claude decided he wanted to be a female, and he wanted to change his name to Poppy.
From here, Frankel leads the reader on a powerful and emotional journey that follows the family through the struggles and successes of raising a child with gender dysphoria, gaining perspectives from the parents, siblings, and Poppy herself. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Gabra Zackman, and think it added another dimension of understanding these characters by giving them their own voices. It broke my heart listening to the soft voice of Poppy, who just wanted to be herself, and to make friends who would love her like her family does. I also loved how supportive her family is, carrying the secret of her birth identity to protect her from the outside world that has yet to completely accept that Poppy just wants to be Poppy. I also loved how Rosie and Penn were so open in their confusion and concern on how to support their child, no matter what Claude or Poppy decided to be. I tried to put myself in their shoes many times, and was surprised at the things that had to face, issues that I never would have thought of as issues. They weren’t written as the perfect parents, and I think that makes them very genuine and relatable to the readers.
I absolutely loved this book, and I thought it was thought provoking, beautifully written, and one of my favorite reads so far this year. I’d recommend it to anyone for it’s powerful message of acceptance. One of few five-star reads!