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February book club - This Is How It Always Is

(80 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 24-Jan-17 09:54:40

Starting the thread a little early (before the books have been sent out! Don't panic!) to add something more to the details on the book club page

Here is a letter from Laurie, the author, which offers insight into why she chose to write this particular story. I read it before I read the book and found that it resonated even more because of it.

grannyactivist Thu 16-Feb-17 14:58:14

I found this book to be uncomfortable reading. The gender issue is close to home as we have a relative who is transgender and the approach of many of the book's characters didn't ring true to my own experience; no reason why it should as we're all unique, but I couldn't find a way through the dissonance. The writing style wasn't easy for me to get into either and some parts seemed overdone (bedtime stories) and others just odd (Thailand).
The old adage to write about what you know is a good one, but perhaps this is a book that could have waited a few years before being written.

Emptynester Thu 16-Feb-17 18:15:05

Thank you for this book. I am not sure I would have bought this book (due to subject matter).
My sympathy goes out to the author not because of her child who sounds as delightful as all children are at this age, but, she must have bared her soul writing this book, and the decisions to write it must have been difficult. I would definitely recommend this to my friends, in a similar vein to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time I can say I enjoyed the book immensely. I liked where the book finished and thought this was much better to leave the future to the readers imagination. I feel Claude was very lucky to have such intelligent and supportive parents.

Pittcity Sat 18-Feb-17 08:23:53

I enjoyed this book and it was not one I would have chosen either.
I found some parts long and drawn out, such as the Grunwald story. I would have preferred more of the human interaction and less metaphorical messages.
I didn't like the story ending there and would love to know what happened next. I also think that there is a film in it.

GeminiJen Sat 18-Feb-17 15:35:30

In her preamble to Early Readers Laurie Frankel says, “Thank you, thank you, for allowing me to share this story with you.” In response I’d like to say to Laurie, “Thank you so much for having the courage to write this and put it out there.” Thanks too to Gransnet for featuring this book.
As others have already said, I wouldn’t normally have been drawn to read about the issues presented here. However, in her preamble, the author tells us that she has a child who was a boy and is now a little girl. This shaped my acceptance of the novel as from one who has walked in those shoes and inspired my admiration for what the author and her family must have gone through.
I found this a thought provoking read. I have no personal experience of gender dysphoria. However, the author’s writing style makes it all feel so real and the story is truly engaging. By placing Claude/Poppy in a big family she is able to explore the effects of gender dysphoria on siblings. Rosie and Penn are doing the best they can for Claude/Poppy and sometimes this seriously disrupts the lives of their other children. Secrets take their toll on all involved. The hypocrisies of society’s attitude to gender are well evoked, as is the intolerance of those who see this as a perversion. Overall, it demonstrates that many of the divisions we cling to are based on our own lack of knowledge.
I loved the use of the Grumwald and Princess Stephanie bedtime story as key to helping everyone make sense of everything. However, I was less convinced by the third part of the novel when the scene shifts to Thailand, where Rosie and Claude/Poppy find solace in Buddhism, Ladyboys and medical missionary zeal. While these served to bring about the hopeful and bright end of the novel, it seemed altogether too neat....But I’m open to being convinced otherwise!
If a definition of a good book is that it draws you in and stays with you, then this is indeed a very good book.

My question for Laurie is the obvious one: Will there be a sequel?

cornergran Sat 18-Feb-17 18:25:49

Although I appreciate the effort that went into this book it did not draw me in. For me the fairy story element could have been compressed and I struggled with the shift to Thailand. Maybe my lack of connection with the author. I am aliso concerned at the exposure of the child and family, this is a complex and sensitive issue that in my opinion would be better approached by the individual as adult. I was left feeling uncomfortable, which may not be a bad thing but sadly I'd struggle to recommend this book.

Maggiemaybe Sun 19-Feb-17 09:39:30

I enjoyed this book immensely,once I got used to the author's style. At the beginning I found the swift changes of tack a little disconcerting. Like some others, I found the fairytale a bit too much - a clever concept, but slightly overdone.

But the story of the Walsh-Adams family was fascinating, and I loved Claude/Poppy and her brothers, even though I thought their nearly total acceptance of the situation wasn't very realistic. The book was touching, fast paced and occasionally very funny, and it certainly gave me a lot of food for thought. The Thailand section was interesting in a different way, for highlighting the tough conditions out there. I found myself holding my breath when Rosie took the life-changing call at work! shock

I'd like to thank the author for a fascinating read and for helping me better understand some of the issues around gender identity. My question would be whether there is a sequel or a film in the offing?

Candelle Sun 19-Feb-17 15:04:11

I physically enjoyed picking up my copy of ‘This Is How It Always is’ as visually it is stunning, so simple and unadorned yet smart and inviting. Please don't change the cover!
I was quickly drawn into the story and family life of the Walsh-Adams’ household with Laurie Frankel giving a vivid description of each member of the family, quickly bringing them to life.
As a British reader, some of the’ Americanisms’ were puzzling, for although we can work out the school grade system etc., several other phrases were more mystifying and perhaps a small glossary would be beneficial for non-American readers.
I found the Poppy/Claude narrative interesting and gave me pause for thought if this had happened within my own family, however I was puzzled towards the end of the book as to why Rosie would think it right to uproot Poppy/Claude to Thailand so quickly, seemingly almost abandoning her other four children, whom she had already uprooted once in a major manner. If I had been one of the other children I don’t think I’d have been too pleased! (I understand there had been major development in Claude/Poppy’s life with the ‘unfrocking’ but to change countries so quickly? The other four children seemed almost sacrificed for Poppy/Claude, ‘though her needs were great. This didn’t ring quite true for me.)
Initially I enjoyed the Grumwald tale but this in the latter part of the book it began to grate. Yes, I understood the idea of the tale but it went on too long and the denouement/realisation could have been brought in a little earlier.
The Thai segment was fascinating in its own right but would a mother really just abandon her child on the first day in a new location, without knowing how it would spend its first day - no matter how busy the mother was? I thought she was a terrible mother at this point! Would the Thai children really have the level and understanding of English demonstrated here? Perhaps they would, I don’t know…
Could I raise the use of the word ‘spastic’,(I spotted this twice)? Perhaps there is another meaning in the States but here it is a derogatory term and hopefully would be removed before a big print run….?
Laurie uses what I consider to be a beautiful phrase ‘fading into rumour’ which I would have loved to have written!
The question I would like to ask Laurie is ‘the book ends quite suddenly and as a reader now interested in Poppy’s future, what is her outcome? Many different scenarios are mentioned during the course of Poppy’s story but which route is chosen for her?’ Perhaps a follow-up book is in order?!
Thank you for a very thought-provoking book both funny and sad which, overall, I really enjoyed (and aren’t we fortunate, living where we do – thinking of the Thai segment?).

gillybob Sun 19-Feb-17 17:49:37

I have just finished reading This is How it Always Is and overall I have to say I really enjoyed the book although confess to skimming (or rather reading rather faster than normal) from the part where Rosie took Claude/Poppy to Thailand,which I found a bit too corny and irritating. I found the subject matter quite interesting and can't help but wonder if whether deep down Rosie so wanted her 5th child to be a girl that (whilst she did not encourage the transformation)she did little to discourage it either and seemed to "go with the flow" a little too easily. I also thought it was grossly unfair of Rosie and Penn to expect their other children to keep such a massive secret for so long.I felt sorry that the others who at times, seemed to be almost ignored in favour of Poppy/Claude and her/his problems. I too would have liked to know what happened to Poppy/Claude in the longer term. Would he have gone on to have a full gender transformation or continued to live a bit of a mixed up life? (I do hope not).

Finally I would like to say how much loved the character of Carmelo the grandma and loathed Miss Appleton and her peanut butter fixation.

gillybob Sun 19-Feb-17 18:23:16

Apologies for the many mistakes . I really should have read it through before posting .

loretta Tue 21-Feb-17 11:38:51

I was completely captivated by this book. Laurie's letter gave it an added depth - you realised this was not someone jumping on a zeitgeist bandwagon but someone who was writing from the heart and from experience and this made the book resonate all the more for me. So many little details that one wouldn't have thought about in the wider context but that really made me think. I felt that Laurie writing from her own experience really pushed me into a place as a reader where I truly thought about how I might have tried to cope in this situation - it is so complex and so difficult for a parent I imagine.

Laurie - I know your daughter is still quite young, but I imagine that any issues you have faced together so far will only be magnified by puberty (which is difficult enough in any case). Do you think you will revisit Claude to explore this period of life? I would love to read more. Congratulations on such a brave and wonderful novel and I look forward to reading whatever you write next

weather Tue 21-Feb-17 11:48:31

This is an interesting book covering an extremely difficult subject.
For a parent and the immediate family this situation is very challenging. I know of such a family and it poses a lot of problems.
This book gives a different slant on matters.
I found that by halfway through the book I was thinking of the little boy as a little girl with an extra appendage, a thought that was new to me. This problem seems to be on the increase..I lisened with interest to two ladies sat behind me on the train talking about a close relative with this condition..
Also with interest I remember an article some time ago on the internet "Scientists believe the synthetic oestrogen can feminise-fish at levels..half the male fish in Britain's rivers are changing sex"
It does make you wonder.....
Thankyou once again for the book it has made interesting reading

annemac101 Thu 23-Feb-17 15:26:59

What a dilemma the parents had with such a young child. Do they tell or keep their son's gender change a secret? I felt really sad reading this story that some children have to go through this in life. It made me realise that it's not a choice,it just is and has to be. I don't think we can say what parts of the story would happen or wouldn't happen,every family would handle the situation differently.
Rosie decided to go to Thailand or was rather pushed into going by her co doctor who thought he was her boss. She thought if she removed Claude/Poppy from the situation they would have time to think what was the next step.
My mind changed a few times as to what Thailand had taught them. Would Claude take tablets to block his teenage hormones or would he not take anything and see
what happens. He said he wanted to be both a boy and a girl (Ithink) but any documentaries I have seen about young transgender people have put the point across that they HAVE to stop puberty to make it easier when they are older. They want no trace of their birth gender to hang around. Of course everyone has their own story and I think we're only starting to learn about how transgender people feel and what they have to cope with. The children in this family all seemed to be exceptionally clever and that's maybe how the brothers all coped with it so well.
I found this to be an exceptional book that I couldn't put down and it educated me too.
If Laurie is answering questions I would like to ask if she thinks Rosie went to Thailand partly because of their take on transgender people or was that just an added bonus to her being there?

NfkDumpling Thu 23-Feb-17 18:43:38

I wanted to read this book because it's completely unlike anything I would normally choose and wanted something outside my comfort zone. I was a girl who wanted to be a boy. My father wanted a son and I preferred being with boys and later car maintenance rather than make up. But so I'm very happy I didn't have the option of changing. Once puberty struck at thirteen/fourteen I was very happy being a girl and I've loved being a woman. Living in a country village I shudder to think how I (and my parents) would have coped with the trauma of even considering changing sex!

I only started reading the book yesterday and have found myself speed reading much of it so far. It'll be interesting to see where it leads and how the family deals with the choices available nowadays.

merlotgran Thu 23-Feb-17 20:13:53

I thought Laurie Frankel's writing style took a little getting used to and the parents in the book seemed just too accepting to be true. I also found it odd that Claude spoke in such an adult way.

The only other book I have read about a child wishing to change gender is Sacred Country by Rose Tremain.

I would like to ask Laurie how much research she did into the experiences of other children before starting this book or did she rely solely on her own experiences as the mother of a transgender child?

nannyH Thu 23-Feb-17 21:47:51

I found this book very disturbing in as much as I have lived so many years without realising how such a young child as claude/poppy could go through such a mixture of happiness with friends and unhappiness after disclosure. This book was uncomfortable in some ways, but has opened my eyes to a subject of which I had no knowledge.
I would ask Laurie to please write a sequel.
janeainsworth, I would be happy to send you my copy if you do not have one.

grannylyn65 Sat 25-Feb-17 18:52:43

I would like feedback from Laurie !

gardener Mon 27-Feb-17 18:42:34

Like others who have written in, I would probably not have chosen this topic .
But I have really enjoyed the book.
The author writes from experience and it shows.......she puts her thoughts on paper in such a caring and insightful way.
I loved hearing the fairy tale which illustrated the real story line .

Laurie........have you used this fairy tale format with your child ?

It is hard to believe that a child as young as Claude could make such an important decision which would affect the rest of his/her life. what age did your child tell you his/her feelings ?

I would love to hear what happens to Poppy in the future. Will there be a sequel ?
Thank you to Gransnet for letting me share this book.

NfkDumpling Mon 27-Feb-17 18:50:29

Half way through the book now, I'm finding it well written although I'm having a few problems with the American school system. Where we live all children wear uniform for school so impractical dresses wouldn't do and necklaces certainly wouldn't be allowed on health and safety grounds. Heels on a five year old while their feet are still growing? I'm finding myself more concerned by the weird twins, the super intelligence of all the boys and the shrinking Claude rather than his wanting to wear dresses.

(My own DGS, aged three and half, prefers to play with girls at nursery school and loves playing dressing up with them in sparkly dresses. Should I be concerned?)

Cosafina Mon 27-Feb-17 20:42:50

Well the good news is there are still honest people in the world! Someone handed my bag in to TFL and I got everything back! grin

Which is even better because I really enjoyed the book. It took me the first half page to get used to her style, but by the end of the first page I was already hooked.

I'm not entirely sure I believe in transgender (ducks head to avoid the barrage of scorn that will be poured on me) but I can definitely see that we do our children no favours by stereotyping them as much as we do. If girls are 'allowed' to wear trousers why aren't boys 'allowed' to wear skirts and dresses? I can even see that being forced in one way might give kids good reason to buck against that, but I worry that some very young children are being steered towards surgery.

So I'm glad that Poppy wasn't pushed towards it, and that she had such a supportive family. I just wished they'd have been as supportive of Roo who was uprooted from all he'd known at the worst possible time (I know because it happened to me!)

I'd like to know how things turn out for Poppy - will she go back to Thailand where she'd be more accepted (afraid I didn't buy the total acceptance she got back in Seattle)? Will she find happiness?

It occasionally strayed into teaching me about the subject matter, but not enough to put me off, so all in all I thought it was a good read.

mumofmadboys Tue 28-Feb-17 08:17:43

A very interesting book and one that will live with me for a long time to come. It is very hard to put oneself into the place of the parents,Rosie and Penn. What a huge dilemma! It is especially poignant that the author is dealing with the same situation herself. It made me think about families living with secrets generally. I too would be interested in a follow up novel and wonder if one is planned. I agree it would be an interesting theme for a film. I wish the author's family well on their journey and thank you GN for sending me this novel and giving me a chance to read a book I was probably unlikely to choose.

Dannydog1 Tue 28-Feb-17 09:54:49

I have not been able to finish reading this book yet but have enjoyed it so far. What a brave story to tell. It is written in a very loving, honest, natural way which draws you in and I felt part of it all. I look forward to seeing how it develops and presume my impression so far that it is a story of parental love and acceptance will prove correct.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 01-Mar-17 17:25:18

Sending the questions off to Laurie now - answers coming soon

Greenfinch Sun 05-Mar-17 21:40:46

I found the book interesting but I could not really identify or empathise with any of the characters.All credit to the author for tackling such a sensitive subject and although I did not find I could not put it down I did enjoy following how the storyline developed.
We have this situation in our extended family.A distant cousin is preparing to change gender at the age of 21.Oddly enough she is an identical twin so most definitely started life as a girl.As a teenager she wore her hair very short and wore manly clothes but has now made the big decision to change completely and is very happy about it.
My very best wishes go to the author and her family and thank you for writing about a subject so close to home.

NfkDumpling Tue 07-Mar-17 13:15:33

Finished it at last! (I've been unexpectedly busy of late). Loved the book - well written althougn I did speed read some of the fairy tale bits as I found it over-complicated.

I too feel that, although the boom rounded itself off and stopped in a good place, there is plenty of leeway for a follow up maybe in Thailand?

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 15-Mar-17 11:58:04

As many people asked questions on similar themes, Laurie has put together her answers accordingly, rather than individually. And here they are...


Thank you all so much for reading THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS, for your warm wishes, and for asking such smart, loving, thoughtful questions. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart!

On what happens next…
Lots and lots of you wondered whether there will be a sequel, which, thank you, is the highest compliment. I don’t think there will be though. I very much wanted the ending to stay ambiguous; we don’t know who or what Poppy will be going forward any more than she does, and that’s uncomfortable but wonderful. It’s true that the issues addressed in this book would grow and change as the kids became teenagers and young adults, but in other ways, this is how it always is, which is my larger point. So tempting as it is to follow these characters further, I think I’ll probably hold here.

On travel and research…
Lots of you also wondered about Thailand, which is a great question. It was something of a surprise to me. I didn’t realize the book was going there when I began it, and when I did realize it, I also realized that 1) I was going to have to go too in order to write it and 2) I was going to have to go immediately because I couldn’t finish the book otherwise. So I called a travel agent and left just a few weeks later for two-weeks of exploration all over the country. It was a remarkable trip, somewhere between business and pleasure, and Thailand is a lovely country with lovely people in it.

As far as research-from-home went, I did lots and lots (and lots) of research for this book. I read books, academic papers, medical texts, essays, and memoirs. I went to conferences. I met lots of parents and lots of kids, spoke to doctors and experts in the field, and generally learned as much as I could from all sides.

On transgender issues…
I think transgender and gender nonconforming people are safer, more understood, and more embraced now than ever before, if slowly and insufficiently as yet and with the horrible attendant backlash. Change is slow and hard, but there’s good movement in the right direction, and I’m so grateful for that. It’s one of the reasons I went to Thailand where transgender people, and indeed a notion of gender beyond just male and female, are already part of what’s considered normal.

My child was just six when all of this began for us, though I can certainly see earlier signs in retrospect. It’s breathtaking and constantly surprising to me how sure these kids are, how clear they are and how early.

On my own child…
My daughter thinks this book is about her, and she loves that. She can’t imagine, actually, why I’d write a book about anything else. She is, after all, terrifically fascinating and important so far as she’s concerned. She’s not read it yet — she’s only eight — but I think when she does she’ll realize it’s not really about her at all. She is very proud of being transgender though and eager to spread understanding far and wide.

The fairy tale is my favorite part, and I do wish I could tell stories to my own child as Penn does, but in fact, mostly I read to her instead of making it up aloud. It turns out I need my fingers on a keyboard to translate the words in my brain. Off-the-top-of-my-head proves unfortunately to be a skill I lack.

On screen…
Film and TV negotiations are underway now. So cross fingers please!