Author: Lisa Williamson
Publish Date: 1 January 2015
Genre: Realism, LGBTQ+
Audience: Young adult
‘The Art of Being Normal’ has been on my TBR list for almost a year now, so I decided it was time to pick it up whilst I was in the mood for YA. In addition, I have read hardly any books which address LGBTQ+ issues despite it being a topic close to my heart, and I thought it was about time I changed that!
‘The Art of Being Normal’ features alternate point-of-views from two teenage boys, David and Leo. David has known he was a girl since a very young age yet is unsure of how to tell his parents, whilst he embraces his true self in private and monitors his bodily changes. Leo has a reputation for being the ‘bad boy’ after recently transferring schools for reasons unknown to anybody but himself. I really liked the dual narrative aspect, as both characters fully needed their own narration considering their personal and family stories; this also worked incredibly nicely as the characters started off separate, and you felt their stories collide with the narration. Williamson did an excellent job of writing two very different personalities, and I felt fully absorbed into both characters’ stories.
I have not previously read a book which centres around transgender teenagers, and Williamson provides such a sensitive portrayal; this must undoubtedly be helped by her experience working as a NHS specialist for people struggling with gender identity. ‘The Art of Being Normal’ steers clear of any stereotype that is unfortunately common in the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters, giving them the representation they deserve. David and Leo were not simply plot devices for an LGBTQ+ story, but fully fleshed and utterly human characters. In addition, the dialogue is extremely realistic and I felt truly connected to the characters’ and their stories. This really helps in conveying the overall message of the book which is ultimately that normal is as much as a social construct as gender is. Such a powerful message along with truly connectable characters is undoubtedly an inspiring winner of a book.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book, and for the first 200 pages I could not put it down. However, I didn’t really enjoy the ending as I found the premise rather cheesy and almost rushed. Whilst David and Leo came to suitable conclusions for their stories, I did not get that satisfied feeling when I closed the book; in all honesty, I cannot really think of an alternative for what would have given me that feeling, but something just didn’t feel entirely resolved for me. Furthermore, I felt that the characters of Zoe and Felix (David’s friends) were quite lack-lustre, and I would have liked to know more about them. They appeared as necessary fillers which was a stark contrast to the rawness of David and Leo, and I felt they had a lot more to offer.
Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about ‘The Art of Being Normal’ without giving away important plot-points. Overall, I really did enjoy this novel as I felt extremely invested in David and Leo, and Williamson’s writing was outstanding. Whilst I would have liked a more satisfying ending, the story did feel suitably wrapped up and it did not take away from my overall enjoyment of book. This a definite must-read for anybody interested in reading LGBTQ+ fiction!