Although I have read quite a few adult books with young trans protagonists I have never before seen a YA book with a trans lead, and so I was really intrigued by The Art of Being Normal as it seemed to be, potentially, a totally unique book. Even more so after seeing the stunning cover artwork, reading the synopsis, and flicking through a few random excerpts.
I loved the opening hook of the book where David reveals that he has always wanted to be a girl. It’s funny and authentic, but also sad and marks him as an outsider, so really sets the tone for the rest of the story. The book has 2 narrators: David and Leo, whose POVs are distinguished by slightly different fonts – a great design idea – and their differing teenage voices, David, nervous but optimistic, Leo, hard nosed, with an edge of cynical humour. Both voices feel engaging and authentic from the outset. The first half of the book focuses more on Leo and the writing is characterful and intriguing. As the story moved into the world of teenage parties and romances I felt it might become a typical YA tale about outsiders who become friends, with less focus on the trans stuff. How wrong I was, near the middle, the story takes a suprising turn that made it much deeper and more interesting. And, as David and Leo’s characters get to know each other, it becomes a personal and heartfelt piece and our understanding of them really deepens. I found their conversation at the derelict swimming pool very moving and beautifully done, really erring on the side of subtlety in what could have been an overplayed moment. There were many scenes like this during the second half of the story, where I worried things could get too dramatic, but Lisa WIlliamson does a fantastic job, creating quiet intense moments with a light touch and mixing bittersweet or dark events with the lighter funnier YA material about friendship, so that everything feels balanced just right.
It is a brillaintly plotted book with lots of fun details and I enjoyed the little nods to Twelfth Night and Mermaids etc and loved the Cinderella elements of the ending. I really think young trans and queer readers need their share of these type of YA stories, and more of them, so this books is a brilliant and unique addition to that genre.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I wish I could write like David Levithan. This is a fantastic book of Y.A. short stories about love. Good, bad,ugly, indifferent, redemptive. Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Queer, and straight. Most of the stories feature teenage or college protagonists, but one or two are about older couples.
The writing really captures the open-hearted, self-conscious, obsessive, un-selfaware, romantic yet cynical quality of the teenage voice. Most of the stories have a hopeful optimism to them in the end, but despite that there’s bitter-sweet sadness to much of the writing. It infuses the interior space of the characters adults and teenagers alike, all aching to be whole, to be truly heard and felt and understood. And who cannot relate to that?
There are some repeating themes: proms, and unlikely cupids, first meetings, coincidences. Nearly all the stories are great, but Starbucks Boy, The Alumni Interview, and The Good Witch, stood out for me. And my absolute favourites, the two that made me cry big time, were: Princes and The People Who Meet on Airplanes. The People Who Meet on Airplanes in particular took a really startling and beautiful turn in the second half of what was already a great story.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this. A great piece of middle grade scifi. So much imagination in the situations and settings which are beautiful illustrated by the author, in a cartoony style in this gorgeously designed book. It had flavours of both Star Wars and Princess Mononoke with its amoebic aliens and ramshackle spaceships. Sometimes the prose is a little difficult to follow, but admittedly I did not read the first book and so perhaps some information is probably missing for me, because there’s quite a lot of world building that is glancingly referenced here that obviously occurred in the first book, which perhaps I should have read! Sometimes I felt like the action description is lacking a little physical detail also, but the pace is cracking fast, as with many middle grade books and to slow it down for the world building detail would probably be a little off putting to young readers. Anyway I still found the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable and a great inspiration for my writing. Eva Nine is a brilliantly spunky heroine and the secondary characters like Rovender and Hailey are intriguing and lively too.
Here is one of the stunning illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi…
All the books I read in 2014
Not forgetting, of course, This book, which I read multiple times, to proofread…
A few pics from visiting the cathedral the other day…