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Goodreads synopsis:

Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

Cambridge Literary Festival

I am so pleased that I decided to go to hear Lisa Williamson at the Cambridge Literary Festival talking about The Art of Being Normal. If I hadn’t maybe I would not have discovered her book and that would have been a terrible shame. It was a fascinating talk, and I met her briefly afterwards at her book signing. More details of this are on this blog under the heading Author Interviews and Talks, April 19th, 2015, so do please take a look.

My review:

This is without any doubt one of my favourite books. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me frown, it made me want to punch Harry the school bully when he calls David “freak show.” Thank goodness Lisa Williamson gave David the guts to demonstrate that he isn’t a complete pushover. He retaliates calling Harry’s girlfriend “Bubble Brain.” Way to go!

A veritable rainbow of emotions flickered through me as I read The Art of Being Normal. I love the main characters in the book, David and Leo. All the subsidiary characters are exceptionally well crafted and believable too.

Lisa Williamson does an amazing job of creating a sense of the warmth and cosiness in David’s family life which is then artfully contrasted with Leo’s “dilapidated” council estate, in Cloverdale. The two boys develop an unlikely, and in Leo’s sense unwilling relationship. At first Leo is reluctant to get involved with anyone, this is his way of coping, his self-protection mechanism. We learn that he has been expelled from Cloverdale school. When Leo’s sister mentions the word “normal” he goes into an internal verbal tirade. Here’s some short quotes from the tirade:  “I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m the complete opposite of ‘normal’. “Normal. I say it over and over again as I pace up and down…”

Cloverdale has such a “hard” reputation that all the kids at his new “posh” school Eden Park think he is a tough nut. But this is just a veneer, Leo has a secret, and so has David, and ultimately this is what will draw the two of them together.

The secrets in Eden Park School, and in the lives of these two families are poised on a precarious precipice edge, waiting  for that moment when they cannot be contained any more and have to be released into the world. Of course when David reveals his true self, the effect is potent, painful, irreversible and life changing.

This is without doubt a remarkable debut from Lisa Williamson. As soon as I started reading The art of Being Normal I was struck by the voice of the novel. The reader becomes immersed in Lisa’s words because I do believe that Lisa really cares about Transgender kids and this empathy shines out in her writing. When I reached the halfway mark I wondered if the novel had more to give, would it progress at the same pace or would it turn up a notch or two? Well I wasn’t disappointed, the narrative cranked up and the revelations, particularly David’s, were such tear jerkers.   Yes I was crying like a baby! His family’s response was just so heart-warming, you just have to read this book! Leo’s family life had an unexpected revelation about his mother too that I just didn’t see coming. David’s best friends Essie and Felix, are such a cute couple and I love how they do everything they can to make David feel special.

The art of being normal  tackles so many issues that are not just solely relatable to the experience of Transgender kids, bullying, friendship, family, life’s difficulties growing up, and life’s hard knocks, these are all there for everyone to relate to.

The writing is so spot on, the dialogue is so natural, the settings are interesting and novel. I particularly enjoyed how Lisa Williamson set some of the scenes of the book in a disused swimming pool, culminating “in the very first Alternative Eden Park Christmas Ball,” the liberating but heart-breaking trip to Tripton-on-Sea,  the wonderful time in Tripton’s bingo hall and pub these were just some of the many highlights for me.

My rating:

A 5 star read. Highly recommended for readers of Young Adult, Contemporary, and Glbt.

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Favourite quote:

“Besides,” Dad says, “who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ” Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.”

I smile. But I can tell he’s putting on a brave face with all the fake jolliness. It reminds me of when his mum died and he was all lively and together at the wake, making jokes and filling up everyone’s drinks, and later I overheard him crying alone in the bathroom.”

Have you read The Art of Being Normal? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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