This Is How It Always Is
by Laurie Frankel
Release Date: January 24, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Number of Pages: 336
Source: Warren Public Library
Read 5/16/19 to 5/19/19
This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.
This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.
This is how children change…and then change the world.
This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.
When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.
Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.
This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.
I have a confession to make. I finished this book within hours of having to leave for book club. Not because I didn’t like the story…I actually LOVED the story. As usual, I had a hard time finding time to read a hardcover book as opposed to my usual digital books. I find it harder and harder as my reading vision gets worse and worse. Just know, I always wanted to be reading this book from the first chapter I read. I just didn’t always have the opportunity, my reading glasses on hand, the proper lighting, or a way to read it while in bed with my husband snoozing next to me. But I digress…
While I’ll admit this author’s writing style might not be for everyone, she tends to favor long and flowing sentences, it really spoke to me. It seemed somewhat poetic and almost like a soothing lullaby. In fact, it almost seemed like a fairy tale. Which I believe could very well have been on purpose. After all, the father in this story is a master at weaving such tales. The family as a whole seems to have a fairy tale life in many ways…as is brought up numerous times in this story. In my mind, that was the point. None of us come from perfect families. Don’t ever try to convince me otherwise. There are always secrets, always resentments, always something whether it’s talked about or not. For a kid like Poppy, there could be no better family to be born into. Almost too good, which happens to be its own issue once things start falling apart. As Mr. Tongo, wonderfully eccentric minor character, said more than once, Rosie and Penn were maybe TOO good at protecting and accepting Poppy. She no longer knew how to deal with life’s low blows and disappointments because she never really had to.
I had a lot of split feelings on Rosie. She seemed to be the real dark spot in this fairy tale at times. Rosie is a doctor, a wonderful mother (usually), a compassionate person. But Rosie also (maybe due to her scientific mind???) always wants a cut and dry answer. A clear path from the problem to the solution. And maybe, possibly, she echoed my own need for the right thing to do and say a bit too much for comfort. Penn, on the other hand, I loved. If Rosie was compassionate, I don’t even know the proper word to use for Penn. He’s so accepting, always trying to steer all their kids in the right direction without being overbearing. There is a scene that involves clothes in the dryer that would have made me love Penn if I hadn’t already been in love with him from the beginning.
I’m trying to say Rosie and Penn are not perfect. Often, I wondered what certain decisions were doing to the rest of their kids. I felt maybe they didn’t discuss things enough with the older boys and didn’t listen to what was being said to them in any real fashion. Sometimes that would play out in the narrative, sometimes it wouldn’t. So no, no family is perfect. What’s great about Rosie and Penn is that we often get to see two sides of an argument. Two different ways of viewing the same thing. Two opinions of what is best and what should be done.
Let’s be clear here, this is a work of fiction. FICTION! I am judging it as such. No, most people can’t just up and move if things aren’t going their way. No, most do not have such wonderfully open-minded grandmas. No, most families have more fighting and less camaraderie as their kids grow up. Again…fiction. Which means I will rate it as such.
While not everyone in my book club loved the book quite as much as I did, it seemed they all liked at least liked the story. If nothing else, it made for some great conversations. There was a complaint of the over descriptive, flowery language the author used. I talked about what was mentioned in my review above about the fairy tale aspect and many of the women looked at it a bit differently after that. Not to say they were instantly won over to her style of writing, just that they seemed to understand her use of that style a bit more.
Since everyone in our book club lean to the left, there were no fierce debates. While I would strongly recommend this to any book club for a strong discussion, if there are a lot of different religious and/or political views in your book club and you don’t want any hurt feelings, this may be a controversial pick. I also believe it can open some eyes and minds, so maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing to have some healthy back and forth.
Linda is our next hostess for book club, but didn’t pick a book yet as she forgot she was next. But we have time…we won’t be meeting again until July 28. I’ll pop back in and update you as soon as I know what we’ll be reading.