Book reviews

Review: The Art of Being Normal

This was definitely one of those books that I didn’t want to put down. Started it Wednesday night, read the rest of it on Thursday, and now I’m writing my review on Friday morning.

As with a couple of other books I’ve read lately, this book is told from alternating perspectives of the two main protagonists. Fourteen year old David has wanted to be a girl for as long as he can remember. With the exception of an incident at school back when he was 8 years old (something that the school’s head bully still harasses him about), the only people who know are his best friends Essie and Felix. The three of them are outsiders at Eden Park School but together they get by. Leo is the new kid in town, joining Year 11 with rumours that he was expelled from Cloverdale School for sawing off a teacher’s finger. Whilst this isn’t the truth, it provides welcome isolation from everyone else as he sets out on getting through the year with as little attention as possible, although a developing crush on Alicia in his English class might be the only exception. Their two lives intermix when one lunchtime Leo sticks up for David during a particularly cruel incident in the school canteen. They go on to develop a seemingly unlikely friendship but as time goes on and secrets are revealed they discover that they need each other more than they could have ever expected.

Whilst this was easy to read in terms of time, there were a few distressing sections that I found upsetting. School bullying is never nice but when you add in gender identity issues on top it becomes that much nastier. Thankfully there are characters in the book who support David for who he is and that acceptance continues as the story progresses. It’s a heartbreaking reminder nonetheless that we’re still a way off from all of society being so accepting.

Aside from this, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. There were key moments throughout where I was right there with the characters and could perfectly imagine the scene (it would make a good film actually but I’m not sure if that’s something that will come to fruition). Essie and Felix were great characters in their own right and whilst we didn’t see too much of him Phil the dog was also a nice addition.

I was debating overnight what rating to give the book on Goodreads – in an ideal world I would have gone for 4.5 stars but alas that’s not possible. In the end I settled for 4 stars as something unknown was stopping me from awarding top marks, but this is an important book that I hope receives attention and promotion in schools.

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