The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

indexShortlisted for the 2016 YA Book Prize

When David Piper was six, he told his class that what he wanted to be when he grew up was a girl and the school bully is never going to let him forget it. But, unlike most people, at the age of fourteen David’s ambition holds. He has the world’s most understanding parents, but somehow he can’t quite bring himself to start the discussion of gender reassignment with them.

Leo Denton arrives at David’s school wanting nothing more than to keep his head down and avoid trouble. In fact, if no one speaks to him at all, all the better. So what’s he going to do when he attracts the attention of a gorgeous girl? And how come he’s standing up for David when the school bully and his crowd decide to go for him?

David’s determined that Leo’s going to be his friend, in spite of Leo’s prickliness. As it turns out, they’ve each found the perfect person to support them.

The centre of The Art of Being Normal is the issue of gender identity. It’s an important issue, much talked about and indeed, the YA community have been vociferous in their demands for diversity in YA literature, including LGBTQ+ characters (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, plus other gender identities or sexual orientations that differ from the majority, if you’re not familiar with the terminology). Quite right too. It’s important for everyone to see themselves represented in fiction and art and poetry and music. It’s important too to read about people who are different from yourself; it educates you about difference and helps you to empathise. Having said that, I’m not a fan of novels that deliberately set out to ‘tackle issues’; I tend to hear preachiness even when it’s not intended.

I am, therefore, thrilled to tell you that The Art of Being Normal isn’t in the least preachy. It’s engaging and it made me cry, but ultimately its resolution is heart-warming and positive. Possibly this is down to the fact that we have two main characters both with issues, so they can share their experiences as peers, rather than one character who is ‘troubled’ and must make good. They’re supported by a strong cast of 3D characters : Leo’s family situation is as intriguing as the mystery that surrounds him, and I love David’s little miss perfect younger sister and his friends, Essie and Felix, who have always shared everything with him but who, now they have started going out with each other, have things they’re sharing with each other but not with David. Some of the settings are fantastic too: the disused swimming pool (in both its incarnations) and the whole of the section at the seaside. Brilliant! I can see the movie!

Good job, Lisa Williamson! I love it when a book makes me cry in the middle but leaves me happy at the end! For me, The Art of Being Normal is up there with a good chance in this year’s YA Book Prize.

Claire Watts

piranha stars green 5


More to Read!

My favourite book with an LGBTQ+ slant is Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. You can read my review here.

Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French?

There’s a giveaway for Claire’s book running until June 1st 2016 over on Goodreads. Click here to enter.

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