The Art of Being Normal is a two-person-narration story about David Piper and Leo Denton; Davi, for starters, has felt since he was a kid that he wasn’t born in the right body. He likes boys, especially this dude Zachary Smith that he’s “loved” for about a decade, but he doesn’t identify as gay. He sees himself more as a girl, and because of something that slipped out back in grade school, the tormentors refer to him as “Freak Show”. His sister Livvy would concur with that nickname if she knew about it. Meanwhile, Leo is from Cloverdale, a very poor part of the region, and got expelled from his last school for fighting, but now has been able to get his way into the prestigious Eden Park School, and there are quite the rumours about him as he’s just trying to stay out of everybody’s way. He’s also been continuously angry with his mom, who’s brought home yet another guy from a bar named Spike, who just might be trying and yet will probably run off with their TV like the last one. Not to mention he’s not Leo’s real dad, who’s been a shadow in his life for eternity. Then Leo manages to save David from a pummeling, and there’s a slim chance the two will be able to give the other what they really need.
Kind of like how Girl Mans Up was the first book with a lesbian protagonist I’ve read about, this was the first book that mainly focuses on the T in the acronym, even though I’d been meaning to read “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo but haven’t gotten around to it yet. A side note is, I have a few trans friends, and I have to admit they’re brave, because transgenders have to bear the fear of their identity being bannered on the outside, whereas others can hide it on the inside if they really want to. And there are a few moments where David is trying to change into a girl, and I know I’ve got to come up with a new way of description, but I felt chills. I could just picture him, or her, being laughed and spat at.
Leo, for some readers, may be annoying at first because of his simple refusal to brighten up, but as he slowly and carefully does, we see more and more how uncomfortable the world around him is, especially when he tries to enjoy time alone with a certain someone. We think we know the reason he’s strutting along carefully and reluctantly, because we’ve seen it done before, but it then throws a curve we don’t expect. I also encourage people in education to read this book, because of one simple thing that happens in it. I personally believe that no one who has never been in trouble with a teacher should work in the school business. That might sound counterproductive and weird, but I feel that way, teachers will be able to understand why sometimes (but a very short sometimes,) throwing fists is a required thing to do. The world is a complicated place where people can’t generalize situations.
David and Leo’s little sisters, Livvy and Tia, both felt completely real and anyone who has a sibling will be able to see the same in Livvy’s hurtfulness and Tia’s sweet innocence. I also enjoyed the direction the book decides to take for its climax, and the ending goes a direction you probably won’t see coming without making it seem like you wasted your time reading on to figure out what the big finish will be. This book has a very good chunk of anger, especially when we find out about a flashback involving Leo. Flashbacks in books generally make me roll my eyes but this one showed Lisa Williamson is content with writing about brutality.
It’s not the best of the best, though. There’s a side romance that takes place, and it is shelved a little too quickly for my taste. There’s also a horrifying moment where a secret is revealed about one of the main characters, and I felt the resolution it takes is a little too safe. I would’ve preferred it if the character with the secret thought another individual did it, which could’ve caused more effective tension. I also wished a little bit more development could’ve gone into the side characters. There is some, but I could see Livvy, or perhaps the bully, and possibly Spike, getting some more time to let them express what they were thinking. I was going to say this coincidence as a flaw, but the more I really think about it, I have a few coincidences in my books too, and so do lots of authors, so I’ll leave it be. also have to work on my ability to digest standalones, because when all was said and done, I felt sure more could’ve been written. That’s how lots of standalones are with me.
But thanks to the grit of showing things we still have to work on in the world, The Art of Being Normal was a contemporary read that managed to peak a little above the average book in that genre.