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The Art of Being Normal

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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…

353 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2015

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About the author

Lisa Williamson

8 books530 followers
Lisa was born in Nottingham in 1980. She spent most of her childhood drawing, daydreaming and making up stories in her head (but never getting round to writing them down). As a teenager she was bitten by the acting bug and at 19 moved to London to study drama at university.

Following graduation, Lisa adopted the stage name of Lisa Cassidy and spent several happy and chaotic years occasionally getting paid to pretend to be other people. Between acting roles she worked as an office temp and started making up stories all over again, only this time she had a go at writing them down.

Lisa lives in London, where she is lucky enough to split her time between writing and acting. In her spare time she reads a lot of books, continues to daydream and eats way too much ice cream.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,590 reviews
Profile Image for Neo Caduceus.
7 reviews
April 28, 2016
I'm a trans person and when I saw this book I was super excited. It had a cool cover and a premise I was personally interested in.
However, once I started reading I was honestly very disappointed.

I know that trans people have different experiences and points of view on their gender, but so many things about this book seemed off to me.

The book isn't written by a trans person, and that was my first clue.
In the blurb: "Two boys." and "David wants to be a girl."
Being trans isn't about wanting to be another gender. We actually are that gender, but have been seen as our birth gender. And that 'wanting' to be a girl shtick continues through the whole story.
Understandably, David has some internalized transphobia and says some pretty transphobic things to Leo. (I can't remember any specifics because I have lent the book to a friend, but I remember this.) And Leo also says some transphobic things to David, which was odd, as he's trans too?
Also, David uses he/him pronouns throughout the whole book which I guess goes with the whole 'wants to be a girl' thing.

I can't really put it into words because my brain is silly, but as a trans person, I felt uncomfortable reading this, especially as it was written by a cis author and it was specifically taking about someone being trans. To me, it wasn't an accurate representation of what it was like to be trans, and this goes on the list of 'disappointing trans books' along with 'What We Left Behind' by Robin Talley.

Profile Image for Natasha.
477 reviews382 followers
March 6, 2018
It's been a while since I read this but I feel there's two things I should point out that really bothered me about the book. 1) Leo is a trans guy but him being trans is treated as a plot twist, and is found out when a girl he likes sees his genitalia. Not a fan of that. 2) Kate (called by her birth name for most of the book) is referred to by he/him pronouns by Leo in his internal monologue after he finds out she's a trans girl but only refers to her as 'she' when she's wearing feminine clothing. That's something that really irked me.

Update: Since reading this I've become a lot more educated on transphobic tropes. The above are all very transphobic tropes. When Leo found out Kate was trans he should've only used she/her pronouns, and when he found out she wants to be called 'Kate' he should've switched to Kate, not only when she worse a dress. It's clearly a book by a cis person who did minimal research. This book is just a transphobic mess.
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.7k followers
June 10, 2021
David longs to be a girl. David is a girl who longs for acceptance.

The Art of Being Normal was not what I had expected. I would say that this is a good introduction for someone who wants to know more about life as a transgender kid and adolescent. It is a heartfelt novel, for sure, but not a perfect one.

I had difficulties connecting with the characters, especially with David. She is 15 years old if I am not mistaken, but she acts like a 12-year-old. In most situations, David and her friends seemed way too young and immature to, for example, go on a weekend trip on their own or have relationships and sex. Their behaviour was not according to their age. Their lack of depth and complexity added to my inability to connect with these characters and made them seem even more childish. David is way too pushy. If she were real I probably would have hit her for being so obnoxiously curious. I get that she is supposed to get Leo to loosen up and slowly stop hiding behind his walls. But the level of pushiness (that a word?) that David shows is maddening.

I also have some issues with the way transsexuality was represented at times. First of all, for 98% of the novel, David, who is, in fact, a trans girl is addressed with male pronouns. And secondly, Leo's gender is used as a plot twist, which is not what someone's sexual orientation or gender identity should ever be used for. And no, this was not a spoiler, for the exact reason that I just mentioned.

The more I think about it, the less I like this book. However, there were a few moments when I got quite emotional. I hope this book paves the way for more trans YA main characters. Their voices are shamefully underrepresented in literature.

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Profile Image for Lia.
340 reviews94 followers
January 22, 2019
I'm not transgender, but even I can see how terrible the author dealt with the characters transness. The story is about the transgender girl Kate who is closeted (and goes by David for most of the book) and the transgender boy Leo who is not out at his new school. The two of them form an unlikely friendship and that's basically what the story is about. I thought the story itself was - except for some problematic things I'll remark on later on - really fun and just nice to read. I love reading about queer kids and friendships.

This book hits a lot of basic trans tropes that are problematic and could have been handled so much better. I honestly wonder if the author (who isn't trans herself as far as I know) has even asked a single trans person for feedback because I can't believe that nobody realized how this book was basically a cis person wanting to "prove" how good of an ally they are by writing a book about trans issues (without knowing anything about trans issues). Guess what? She's a terrible ally. If you can even call her an ally at all.

The book has a whole lot of misgendering, deadnaming and usage of the wrong pronouns and on top of that, there's bullying, transphobia and name calling and if that's not bad enough, here's some more.
From here on, there will be some spoilers, but honestly, you probably don't want to read this book after you've read my review so does it really matter? You decide.
I honestly thought I had somehow misremembered Leo being trans until, GUESS WHAT, the author uses it as a huge plot twist (and a bad one with that). He's basically forced to reveil his transness to someone he cares about after which that person completely drops him. Which is very shitty.

When Leo (voluntarily) comes out to Kate, he does this by partly undressing and showing her his binder. As if there is no other way you can let another person know you are trans, except for showing your body. I cannot believe for a second a trans person would rather show (fairly) intimate parts of their body, than just saying "hey I'm also trans".

Both Leo and Kate are outed without their permission whatsoever and even though Kate being outed was done with good intentions (I guess?), it is still a terrible thing to do. Near the end of the book, Kate's friends out her to almost the entire school without asking her anything, and instead host her a suprise party, dress her up, and not tell her anything until it's too late to do anything about it.
This is the end of the spoiler section! What comes next are very minor spoilers that have nothing to do with the plot.
I wanted to go a little more in depth on the use of pronouns and names in this book. Though Kate is a trans girl - A GIRL - for most of the book she still goes by her birth name and he/him pronouns. Both in narration and dialogue David and he/him are used, which I didn't have much of a problem with until she was out. Even after Kate is out to Leo, he still continues to call her David and uses he/him pronouns. You'd think a trans person would understand the importance of names and pronouns. HE KNOWS how much it hurts to be called by his birth name and yet he still goes out and calls Kate by hers. That's just plain bad and if the author did any research on this, she'd know.

At the point they do start using she/her and Kate, it's treated as something the character needs to be congratulated on instead of, you know, it being a f*cking decent thing to not misgender people.

The thing about this - and more of the often badly phrased laguage of the author - is that the author makes it seem as if Kate is not a girl, but instead is a boy wanting to be a girl. In the narration there are several mentions or sentences that not just imply this but even state this literally. Just a paraphrased example Kate says near the end about her parents "how freaky it must be to see their son being dressed up as a girl." If I know anything about gender identity (and the same goes for sexual/romantic orientation), I know that it's not a choice. You don't pick and choose to what gender(s) you're attracted (if you're even attracted to any gender at all) and you also don't choose being trans. A trans girl is a girl and a trans boy is a boy and using language like 'wanting to be [a certain gender]' is very problematic and promotes the idea that transness is a choice (which it isn't).

As I said before, I'm not trans and though I try my best to educate myself on trans issues but if you found anything I said in this review to be wrong or problematic or anything, please tell me and I'll try to do even better in the future.

Here are some #ownvoices reviews written by trans people: by Neo on GR and by James on Tumblr. On a side-note, PLEASE for the sake of my sanity, like some ownvoices reviews and/or reviews about how problematic it is on goodreads and make them the top reviews so people see what a shitstorm of a book this is. I can't stand the fact that it has over 4 stars and everyone praises how amazing it is.
Profile Image for May.
Author 11 books8,593 followers
February 8, 2016

El arte de ser normal es una novela juvenil que trata el tema de la transexualidad y que cuenta con una historia con giros muy buenos. Es una novela muy bien escrita, con una prosa bonita y unos personajes muy bien cosntruidos. Si bien ya la portada da a entender de qué trata la novela, no solo se centra en el tema de la transexualidad sino que toca otros como la violencia de género, el alcoholismo, los problemas de cualquier adolescente y el bullying. En sí es una novela cargada de valores y que hace reflexionar.
Como digo si por algo se caracteriza esta novela es porque trata diversos temas que me parecen muy importantes y que hacen reflexionar. La pobreza y el abandono, por ejemplo, es uno de los temas que tienen más peso en la novela por uno de los dos protagonistas. Y además nos hace ver cómo la situación personal y el contexto en el que vivimos influyen en todas nuestras acciones diarias. El hecho de ser pobre y estar abandonado hace que Leo sea un niño conflictivo y que tenga salidas de tono que no son normales, por ejemplo.
La historia de El arte de ser normal se construye alrededor de dos protagonistas. Ambxs nos cuentan su historia como narradores homodiegéticos (ya que son actantes directos en la obra) en primera persona. Lo que hace que nos transmitan muchísimo más todo el cúmulo de emociones que sienten día a día por su condición de género. Se va alternando la narración de uno y otro y suelen narrar varios capítulos seguidos. Me gustó mucho el tipo de narrador elegido para la novela porque nos acerca más a la situación de los protagonistas.
Tenemos dos protagonistas que parecen muy diferentes y que al final resultan no serlo tanto. Ambos son personjes redondos, que nos sorprenden, nos emocionan y tienen muy buenos giros. David es el personaje más predecible, mientras que Leo guarda toda una sorpresa muy inesperada.
En sí la novela no es para nada predecible. Me gustó muchísimo que no se centrara en una historia de amor sino que se centre en la evolución de una joven transexual y en cómo afronta el serlo día a día. Y no solo su evolución, sino el de todos los personajes que lo rodean y tienen que hacerse a la idea. Además me gustó que los personajes fueran tan reales y que ambos protagonistas no sean para nada predecibles.
La novela se lee muy rápido, no tiene una lectura muy fácil porque es densa y la autora nos contextualiza mucho para entender bien qué es la transexualidad. Pero lo hace a la perfección, dejándonos ver cómo evoluciona una persona transexualidad que es consciente de su género.
Me ha gustado muchísimo poder leer al fin una novela que trate el tema de la transexualidad. Si bien es cierto que últimamente algunas editoriales apuestan por los conflictos de la orientación sexual, esta es la primera novela que puedo leer con un protagonista transexualidad. La comunidad LGTBI* no está para nada asumida en la literatura, y si bien la comunidad gay es la más normalizada en la misma; la transexualidad sigue siendo un tema marginal. Evidentemente, no ya en la literatua, sino en la sociedad actual.
Es una novela muy buena, muy bien escrita, que normaliza la transexualidad, nos muestra cómo la afronta una joven de quince años y está cargada de valores. Una lectura imprescindible.
Profile Image for Reading Corner.
88 reviews109 followers
April 19, 2017
I couldn't finish this,it deals with an incredibly important issue and relevant topic in today's society but the book just felt like a generic ya book.I wanted to read this book for the trans character and to see how well the story would deal with the issue but after 110 pages I couldn't even really get to the core issue because the writing,dialogue and story were so painfully cliche.The story screams American cliche high school trash that we see in so many media outlets and the book isn't even set in America,it's set in England so why are they acting so American?!

The story was so painfully boring with the typical high school bullies who felt so unrealistic because they used pathetic insults like "freak-show".The dialogue was depressingly boring and failed in giving the characters any depth or personality,I think the worst thing I read was when one character uses the word 'Amazeballs'.Cringe.No one ever says that,it felt like the author was desperately trying to make the story appeal to a younger audience.

I looked up what happens in the story and it's incredibly predictable so I'm glad I stopped reading.It's such a shame I couldn't carry on reading this book when I was so looking forward to it especially due to the trans characters but then the characters have literal no development,the story is depressingly generic and the dialogue is painful.
Profile Image for James.
4 reviews5 followers
September 7, 2016
I’m transgender myself and I work with transgender youth, so of course I’m bringing that to the table. I didn’t hate this book – in fact, I quite liked large parts of it, but there are a few issues that drag it down. One of them was that I don't feel like it was written with transgender people in mind as a part of the key audience, unless they're teenagers still trying to figure out even the most basic things. But at the same time, it's a bit of a narrow representation of transgender people.

The full review is at my blog and contains spoilers.
Profile Image for Sarah Churchill.
472 reviews1,173 followers
August 3, 2015
Fantastic. Highly recommended.

The Art of Being Normal is the story of a transgender character named David, and his journey to finally telling his family (and the rest of the world) that he wishes to be referred to as Kate, and would like to begin transitioning.

I have to be honest and say that I don't believe I've read a book about a transgender character before, certainly not as the main focus of the story. I know they exist, so it's either down to my own lack of diverse reading or a distinct lack of books covering this topic... I suspect it's a bit of both.

I enjoyed this immensely, it's very easy to read and I liked both of the dual POVs (I also appreciated the use of different fonts for both just to keep me on track!)

It features some serious and important themes, all of which were handled well, including of course sexuality and gender but also bullying, family relationships, poverty and abandonment... probably a few more too. But beyond the struggles of David and Leo it never felt 'heavy', if that's the right word. I certainly felt sad and angry, as well as happy and warm, but I enjoyed the whole journey.

As others have said, a must read if you enjoy the work of David Levithan and Maureen Johnson.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,518 reviews8,976 followers
February 17, 2022
UPDATED review 2.17.2022

After rereading reviews by trans readers, I'm lowering my rating to two stars given the problematic portrayals of trans characters in this book.

A couple of reviews to check out: Neo's review and Natasha's review. It seems like Lisa Williamson wrote this book with good intentions and perhaps we're more aware of trans-related micro and macroaggressions now, either way though impact is impact.

ORIGINAL REVIEW FROM 2015, slight modifications to address misgendering and deadnaming:

3.5 stars

Loved the introductory exploration of trans issues in this book, even if it faltered in other areas. The Art of Being Normal follows two protagonists who both go to Eden Park School: Kate, who has always wanted to be a girl, and Leo Denten, an outsider with dark secrets of his own. Though the two seem quite different - Kate, more reserved and wistful, Leo, more moody and confrontational - a twist of fate brings them together in ways neither of them expect.

I appreciated Lisa Williamson's willingness to tackle a trans character and the challenges they face. She makes Kate's struggle to accept herself a central part of the plot while writing her dual perspective with Leo in a way that maintains a solid pace for the story as a whole. Kate and Leo both have strengths and weaknesses, which humanizes them way more than if they had been perfect Christ figures. The Art of Being Normal flowed well, which I attribute to Williamson's easy-to-navigate writing.

I wanted more from several domains of this book though. Williamson's writing, while smooth, did not convey the more nuanced underpinnings of the characters' struggles. Leo's family and Kate's two best friends both felt like accessories to Kate's desire to transition, and it would have been nice to see those characters' relationships fleshed out. Though I read The Art of Being Normal on my Kindle, it felt a bit too thin for me to build strong attachments to our protagonists.

I liked this book and think others will too, though I feel even more excited to read other, more developed young-adult books with trans characters. Looking forward to reading Williamson's future work and I admire the effort she put into crafting this story.
Profile Image for Stacey.
547 reviews1,550 followers
May 4, 2015
You must have heard about The Art of Being Normal by now and, if not, I'm not sure how you have managed to miss it. Published on 1st January, it's one of the most talked about UKYA novels published this year so far, and has certainly set a high standard.

Fourteen-year-old David Piper has only told two people – his two best friends, Essie and Fox, who have both been incredibly supportive – that he has wanted, needed, to be a girl ever since he was a small child. David has written a letter to his parents explaining how he feels but cannot bring himself to give it to them. He already suspects that they think he's gay, but he's not ready tell them the whole story just yet. And he's certainly not going to tell anyone else at school – he's already being called a freak show. David meets newcomer Leo Denton on his first day at Eden Park School. He walks over to him even though Leo doesn't seem to want to talk to anyone at all, let alone make friends. When the school bully just won't leave David alone, Leo steps in, and now David just has to get to know him. But Leo's had to move schools for a reason and David's about to be the first one to discover why.

I've been reading a lot of American young adult contemporary novels lately and so it was a bit of a shock to step into such an obviously English voice, even though I knew The Art of Being Normal was UKYA. It made me realise how much I miss it. I don't know why (are we really that different?), but even though the world of school and the struggles of growing up are essentially the same across the pond, UKYA just makes teenage life feel that little more vivid and relatable. But what is normal, huh?

I have yet to meet someone who didn't enjoy The Art of Being Normal. It has a brilliant – as well as important – title because it's not an 'issues' book. It's not really about being transgender, but is a story that just happens to have a transgender character. David doesn't feel like he's not normal, he's just trying to find a way to communicate that to everyone else. It's about what it's like to grow up, make friends and deal with family. It's about class and identity, and how people are perceived by others. It's all heightened when you are a teenager because it's difficult not to care less; you can't live on your own and you can't do what you want. It can be quite suffocating, so it's helpful to hear stories about teenagers going through the same experiences as you.

The Art of Being Normal is one of the first books I've read that talks about transgender lives. Lisa Williamson not only writes an incredible contemporary novel, full of laughs and emotion, but also a responsible and respectful one. If you've never read a book that talks about being transgender, if you want to read more diversely, or if you just want a realistic, empathetic coming-of-age story, pick up The Art of Being Normal and start to dismantle the definition of 'normal' bit by bit.

I also reviewed this book over on Pretty Books.
Profile Image for Brooke.
284 reviews142 followers
July 18, 2017
Sigh. Another disappointment crossed off the TBR. I was so excited to read this, especially after seeing so many rave reviews, but unfortunately this was a story that did not make it on my memorable list.

My main issue with THE ART OF BEING NORMAL is that it's a tale of transgender teens told by a cisgender author. Now admittedly, I knew that from the beginning but I was optimistic that it may have worked out. I believe in giving authors the benefit of the doubt until I've seen the proof in their work; regardless of how you identify, it is possible to show compassion in the pages. That being said, I do think more books involving trans* MCs should be written by actual trans* authors, but I digress. In my mind, it was still worth it to give this a shot.

That optimism dissolved when it is revealed that one of the MCs is trans*- but only through a scene that revolves around having his genitalia exposed? What?! That doesn't work for me. I also didn't appreciate the transphobic slurs/dialogue the MCs said to each other, as well as using the wrong pronouns. Add onto that the fact that it was stated multiple times that "David wants to be a girl"- WANTS. NO. She already is. Also, neither character is gay so why is the pride flag on the cover? Whatever happened to the trans* flag?

These flaws automatically make this book a fatal recipe. But Williamson's prose & overall flat character development makes this worth skipping. Being cis*, I really can't say anything more effective; I would certainly implore you to read the reviews by trans* reviewers. In my opinion, NORMAL is more harmful than helpful & I can't recommend this.
Profile Image for thebookbitch.
340 reviews339 followers
January 12, 2019
I don't think I've ever been so happy to finish a book. And I don't mean that in a bad way, I literally finished the book with the biggest grin on my face, content with the ending and slightly wanting more Kate (David) and Leo. I'm so glad this book was mainly focused on finding ones true self, as well as true friendship. You know, the type of friendship you'll have for life.

However, I also have to be open and honest to the slightly problematic aspects of the book too. Do I think this represented Transgender people in the best way? Absolutely not. The author is a cis female and could never fully understand what it's like to be Transgender, all the issues people with Gender Identity Issues go through. I also felt like the romantic aspect was seen as a laugh at the expense of Kate which made me uncomfortable. The Art of Being Normal is a good place to start out but there are so many more better representing books out there.
Profile Image for Emily Cait.
207 reviews20 followers
March 23, 2018
This book really highlights why we need own voices novels...
Profile Image for Emily (emilykatereads).
406 reviews299 followers
August 24, 2017
This is one of those times I'm kicking myself for not even reading the book description before buying it. I saw a rainbow book for only $2 so of course I bought it on a whim without taking the time to read the back of the book.

If I had only read the description beforehand I would've immediately put it down.
"David wants to be a girl."
That line says it all. It doesn't get better throughout the book either. The trans girl character is continuously referred to as just a boy who wants to be a girl, which isn't the case. Being trans isn't a matter of "wanting" to be another gender. This book constantly misgenders and doesn't properly talk about being trans. It clearly isn't written for trans kids, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it for people trying to familiarize themselves with trans issues either.
Profile Image for Puck.
670 reviews303 followers
May 17, 2019
Edit 2019: After reading reviews from transgender readers, I am lowering my rating to 2 stars. I rather encourage readers to read books, written by trans instead of cis authors, with a more accurate representation of what it is like to be trans, such as George, Peter Darling or Dreadnought.

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

A sweet YA-story with a couple of amazing diverse characters, although the story itself could have been better.

The strength of this YA-novel is the budding friendship between David and Leo. At first sight the boys are each others opposite - Leo is reserved and moody and David open and kind – but when David is able to break down some of Leo’s walls, they realize how alike they are. Together the boys help each other face problems that are hard to confront, like David’s trans issues or Leo’s missing father, which makes their friendship very touching and beautiful to read about.

That friendship however isn’t strong enough to mask the thin plot of the book. In the first half of the novel the focus is on David and his problems with body dysphoria (which were realistically described, in my cisgender opinion). Not much happens to Leo, apart from him falling in love with Alicia and experiencing some family drama.
In the second part of the book the roles are reversed, but the way Leo’s character is given depth is by sending him and David on a wacky road trip. It’s fun to read about, and the drunken scene in the pub made me laugh, but the trip lacked emotional impact. Williamson certainly tries to give us the feels, but the attempt feels pretty forced.

I was also a bit disappointed by the author’s treatment of transgender topics like bullying or transitioning. Some bullying does takes place in the book, but it isn’t treated seriously; while in reality, prejudice against transgender people is pretty severe. The discussion of gender and sex changes neither goes very into depth. The reason why has to do with an important plot reveal, so I’ll tag this for spoilers.

When it comes to LGBTQIA-books, transgender characters are very underrepresented, which is a damn shame. Complex topics like gender identity and transsexuality are more and more discussed in society these days, so it’s important that we see those topics represented in literature. The Art of Being Normal is one of those pieces of literature that tries to do that, and does a good job, but overall the plot, the writing, and the supporting characters are pretty average.

However, me rating this book 3 stars doesn’t mean this book isn’t worth reading. We need stories like this to introduce trans issues to a broad public, and Williamson herself worked at a Gender Identity Development Service, so she certainly did her research for writing this book.
This novel is therefore a great start for readers interested in transgender characters, and for people who love reading about the emotional friendship between two boys figuring out what it means to be ‘normal’.
Profile Image for Danny Phanton.
254 reviews84 followers
March 21, 2016

Creo que este es una buena novela que te hace reflexionar sobre muchas cosas y que te ayuda a entender un poco más sobre el tema, una trama entretenida y un libro fácil de seguir, con unos personajes bien construidos que hacen más ágil la lectura y con unos giros en la trama bastantes inesperados, en pocas palabras es un libro muy bien escrito y que debería leer todo el mundo para entender más sobre cosas que son "normales" y no deberían ser un tema que importe, simplemente dejar ser cómo algo común y sin más, una novela que recomiendo completamente para una lectura ligera y bien escrita que te dejará muchas cosas.

A mi parecer le falto algo rumbo al final por lo cual le baje media estrella, pero sin duda, la recomiendo.
863 reviews231 followers
January 28, 2016
Have you ever finished a book and thought…that it was IMPORTANT? That the story that’s being told is one that everyone should hear? That’s how I felt about “The Art of Being Normal”. I feel like everyone NEEDS to read this. It’s an important message about our society today. And it it’s just a damn fine book, too.

David has a secret. He hasn’t told his family. He hasn’t come out to the world with it. Only his best friends, and his trusty journal know the truth. If he could be anything in the world…he’d want to be a girl.

Now, I’m certain this isn’t the first book about a trans youth. And I’m thankful that more and more are being published and kids and adults alike are being exposed to the message. But, what makes this one special is that it’s…thought-provoking. For instance: David knows everyone thinks he’s gay. But in his mind, despite having a penis and being attracted to the popular boy in school, he’s not gay. He’s a straight girl trapped in a boy’s body.


Enter Leo. Leo is from the “wrong side of the tracks” and transfers to Eden Park to get an education that will help him escape his difficult life. Leo is tough and mysterious. And David is attracted to him immediately. What I love about this attraction is that it’s not about like or lust or love. David feels connected to Leo in the way that you know you’ve met someone who’s going to change your life.

Leo has his own secrets. And page after page, I was terrified to find out. And then I was terrified that someone else would find out. Oy, the angst!

And just the struggle of being a kid these days…honestly. I sometimes can’t believe how hard it is to grow up nowadays. Never mind growing up being a little different than the other kids in school. I get fiercely protective of those being bullied…reading it makes my stomach tie up in knots and I want to crawl into my Kindle and make it right. Yeah…this book was a bit of a punch in the gut for me.

Lisa Williamson writes a book that is BRAVE in it’s content and it’s characters.

Important. Read it.

What's to like:
The characters in the story are really likable. Yes, they fill the stereotypes of those in most YA books today. But I believe the roles they play in this book. I believe the bully is just an ignorant idiot. I believe the musical girl is cool and playful. I believe the tough kid from across town has a roughness and a softness to him. I believe the awkward feminine kid has more to him than meets the eye. And the writing was really impressive. My first book from this author…looking forward to more.

What's to love:
The messages of this story: friendships, family, being true to yourself, standing up for yourself, being different is ok, It-gets-better…they all work today to present a story about hope. They don’t compete with each other. They actually build each other up. And though it was sometimes hard to read the tough times these kids go through, I want felt HOPEFUL by the end.

Beware of:
There is a story arc in the book that deals with Leo finding his father. It’s emotional and hard to read. It’s also uplifting and funny at parts. But, I wonder if it really needed to be in the book. It might’ve been unnecessary to the overall story. Still…I enjoyed it.

This book is for:
Ok, well, it’s definitely for those who love to read YA. It’s also for those raising children and wondering how to approach topics like transgender. But ultimately, its for everyone, really. It’s eye-opening, heart-opening, mind-opening. Good for the soul.
Profile Image for Kathy - Books & Munches.
447 reviews156 followers
September 4, 2018
I wrote "The Good"-part of my review before reading other reviews, own voices-reviews. That's the sole reason I'm still going to stick with everything I wrote first in this part. Beware of "The Bad", though. There's a whole lot coming your way over there.


I flew through this book. Whether it's the content, the plot, the story line or the writing - I don't care. I absolutely flew through it and loved every second of doing so. The Art of Being Normal spoke to me in a way I didn't expect. I lost myself in this story immediately, connecting with both main characters in a way I didn't see coming. I love reading about queerness and queer friendships, so.. I guess that simply makes sense.

Both David and Leo stole my heart. David knows he's supposed to be a girl - he/him-pronouns are used throughout the entire book for him - and he's struggling with it. The only people in the know are his two best friends, Essie and Felix.
As for Leo, he had a hard upbringing with a mother ignoring him most the time and not having a real connection with any of his siblings, even his twin. He's a loner, loves being alone and claims not to need friends. But that's without David stumbling into his life and refusing to leave.
Seeing those two connect in ways they never expected, opening up to one another - it was a beautiful and, at times, heart-breaking thing to behold.

I feel like I'm simply telling you half the story, but trust me when I say I'm not! There's simply so much gushing I want to do and it's hard not to spoil half the stuff that needs sharing. I can only say that there's transgender rep, transphobia and.. an amazing story hidden in these pages. [Or at least, I wanted to do nothing but gushing before I read other reviews...]


Now I wish I could follow that up with "and there's not a bad thing about it!" but.. Like I said, after reading some other reviews, I realized there are definitely some huge issues with this novel.

As I mentioned, he/him-pronouns are used throughout the entire book when it comes to David. Even though he feels he should be a girl, the pronouns aren't adapted to that. Not once. Looking back, that definitely should've been the case since pronouns are close to every LGBTQIA+'s heart. 

Then we have a character's sexuality used as a plot twist. At the time, while reading, I didn't really think much of it but looking back.. I totally see how that simply isn't right. Imagining how me going "Oh, I'm bisexual!" would turn a whole story upside down.. My skin's crawling just thinking about it..

Another thing mentioned in reviews I read, is how there are transphobic comments made to transgenders by transgenders. It's been a while since I read this book, so I don't remember any specific ones but after reading those reviews..  It's not that hard to believe anymore.

I admit, I was totally seeing five stars here at first, but other reviews changed my mind and in this case.. Well, that's allowed. I still enjoyed the story and for that, three stars it is.

3 / 5

Profile Image for Carlos Carranza Carranza.
Author 1 book458 followers
February 12, 2016
David y Leo son dos adolescentes que empiezan el instituto con grandes secretos: David quiere ser una chica, y Leo fue expulsado de su anterior instituto por un turbio asunto del que solo corren rumores.
Hay muchas cosas que me han gustado. Me ha gustado el protagonista; David, y su forma de afrontar su situación: en realidad él no tiene ningún problema con ser como es, el problema lo tienen los demás con respecto a él. Me ha gustado que no se recree en el tema del bullying; lo hay, por supuesto, pero no es el tema principal de la historia. Y me ha gustado mucho la forma tan natural de tratar temas que a nuestra sociedad le puede costar mucho asimilar (si lo leéis, me entenderéis).
Pero, sobre todo, me ha gustado que esté dirigido a un público juvenil. He tenido con este libro la misma sensación que tuve en su momento con La lección de August: que debería ser obligatorio, imprescindible. Con el tiempo, La lección de August ha sido lectura obligatoria en muchos colegios, El arte de ser normal debería serlo también.
He aprendido, me he emocionado, he reído, he sufrido y he disfrutado con unos personajes que he sentido que tenían vida propia. ¿Qué más se le puede pedir a un libro?
Profile Image for Nicola.
229 reviews22 followers
October 25, 2015
I was really pleasantly surprised by this book. I've been hearing a lot about it and on my quest to read more UKYA (since it's where I'm from and I want to support the UKYA scene) I decided to pick it up. I am so happy that I did as it is one of those stories that I completely devoured.

David is fourteen years old and has known since he was a child that he is really a female stuck inside a male body. His two best friends are the only ones to know and he is struggling to find the right way to tell his parents. He has already been branded the "freak show" at school and certainly doesn't want his life to become even more difficult. But he knows that he needs to become who he really is.

Leo is the new kid school and his attempt to stay as invisible as possible fails when he steps in and stands up for David in a fight. David is insistent in becoming friends with him but Leo moved schools for a reason and David is set to become the only person to know the real truth of why.

The characters in this book are wonderful. There are alternating points of view from David and Leo and each had a very distinct voice. Both of their stories are very moving in their own way and have the right balance of sensitivity, development and humour.

One of the things I liked most about this story is that it's not just about being transgender. It tackles diversity, the class system, bullying, becoming a teenager and turbulent family relationships. Each theme is so beautifully written and with just the right amount of humour that you can be in tears one minute whilst laughing the next.

The Art of Being Normal is an emotional and realistic coming-of-age story which challenges the idea of what being "normal" actually means. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Jess.
60 reviews12 followers
June 20, 2016
It's high time the world of YA fiction had a real contender in the T corner of the LGBT spectrum, and Lisa Williamson stands up to the plate magnificently.

'The Art Of Being Normal' follows David, who stumbles through the minefield of high school and puberty knowing in his heart that everything is wrong... because he wants to be a girl, knows he is supposed to be girl. Navigating bullies gets a little easier for him though with a well aimed punch from Leo Denton, who struggles alongside David with a family that barely seem to notice him and a blossoming relationship with a beautiful girl that seems too good to be true.

This book took me on a hike, up and down, making me laugh and tear up in turn. Both David and Leo are complex and delightful characters that suffer some teenage problems we can all sympathise with, and then some that we know little about, putting us in sometimes very uncomfortable shoes. This book offers up a glimpse of understanding, addressing gender and sexuality without flinching from the difficulties of the subjects addressed.

It broke my heart and remade it and I feel like I need to re-read it and appreciate it all over again. An honestly wonderful must read for both teens and older readers. YA fiction needs more books like this.
Profile Image for ♡︎bee♡︎.
503 reviews3 followers
April 12, 2017

This book is really important. There are so many people out there today struggling with gender identity and the desperate need to be looked at as "normal" because they do not fit into the specific and constricting constructs of society and it is just heartbreaking. Before this book, i did not have that much of an insight into transgender struggles. Even if this book is purely fiction, it still did open my eyes to some of the struggles in an honest simple prose imbued with complex depths. I really do not have much to say except that i urge everyone who has not read it yet to read and be educated in any possible way and learn more even after reading in order to understand the struggles of the people going through this. It may not seem real to some of us, but it is for every transgender person out there who is not accepted.
The only thing i did not like about the book was that it is written in the present tense because for some reason that i do not know, i just cannot stand books written in the present tense. I made it through though so yassss bihh.

So I have to read this for a class and I'm pretty curious about the book .
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
April 17, 2015
Lisa Williamson's The Art of Being Normal is a moving, well-written reminder of how brutal, yet how beautiful, the world can be to those who are different.

David Piper has really never fit in. Apart from his two best friends, most of his fellow high school students ridicule him for being different. One of the school bullies has called him "Freak Show" since they were younger, but David is willing to wait him out until high school ends. His parents think he is gay, and are waiting for him to tell them.

What David wants, more than anything, is to be a girl. But as he grows taller and more like his father, he wonders if this will ever be a possibility.

Leo Denton is the new kid in David's high school, coming from a poorer area to the more posh private school. Overly exaggerated tales of his exploits at his last high school follow him, but he lets people say what they want about him. Yet while he wants to remain under the radar, two events occur which ensure that wish isn't granted: he stands up for David when he is being bullied, and then he falls for one of the most beautiful and talented girls in school. It's not long before secrets he hoped wouldn't be exposed come to light.

I felt The Art of Being Normal so accurately captured the feelings one experiences when you are different, when you are bullied, and how you just wish you could hide to avoid the ridicule and abuse. Williamson created such complex characters that you feel for and root for, characters you think about after the book is over. Even if once the story hits its stride you have a feeling how the plot will unfold, you're completely drawn into the characters' lives and you want to know what is going to happen.

Like so many YA books out there these days, this type of book didn't exist when I was growing up. I'm so glad that it exists now, however, and hope that people read it, are moved by it, and perhaps convinced to change their behavior, to understand that their definition of "normal" isn't everyone's. So well done.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Odette Brethouwer.
1,447 reviews238 followers
February 19, 2017
Oh, this is one cute diversity read! I highly recommend this if you love Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda!

Just like in Simon, in this book it is about a diversity character, in this case a trans, but without the book being written in a learny way. You get to know David and you learn what it's like to be trapped in the wrong body because he is.

And I also like Leo a lot! And I like how, at least in the Dutch version, the different point of views are indicated with different fonts. I really like how this worked out!

A cute, fun read, lovely characters and the book is filled with beautiful touching moments. I highly recommend reading this!
Profile Image for Ylenia.
1,073 reviews387 followers
January 10, 2020
★ 2016 AtY Reading Challenge ★: A book from the Goodreads Recommendations page.

The Art of Being Normal was poorly written at best.
I'm not talking about the cringe-worthy dialogues here, I'm talking about the actual execution and development of the main themes. This book was full of trans-phobic tropes.
Profile Image for Lenore.
596 reviews374 followers
March 27, 2015
There are some books you're proud of. This is one of those for me.

It's not the perfect book, but it's heartbreakingly beautiful, and emotional, and heartfelt. It's outstanding.

Please, everyone. Read it.
Profile Image for Lee Farnell.
20 reviews69 followers
December 28, 2014
When I first picked up this book I had really high hopes for it. The idea of a young transgender protagonist was really appealing and (as fickle as this may be) I love the cover. It's what drew me in.

Having just finished the book, my overall thoughts are good, but not great.

Story wise I really enjoyed it. I think the overall story was great. Both David and Leo are wonderful characters and I loved their inner monologues of their struggle with being transgender; they were thoughtful and they were real. I know when I was a teenager, I certainly had similar feelings with certain aspects of myself and I thought Lisa did a wonderful job of capturing those moments. I also thought the two had a great dynamic together, though I would of liked to see their friendship blossom a little more before they shared there stories with one another and set off on the journey to Kent. That section felt a little unreal to me, I feel like teenagers don't crack so easily to one another.

I also would of liked to know a little more about Leo's mother and 'her side of the story' when it came down to Leo's father and what happened. I would of liked to see how it changed the dynamic between Leo and his mother. Apart from that, I thought the characters all played their parts well, especially David's mother who I thought was particularly well written.

One of my only major vices with the book is that it started by jumping straight in with David proclaiming 'I want to be a girl.' but after that, it diverted and the beginning of the book mainly focussed on Leo and his growing relationship in the new school and I felt like Davids story became a little sidelined. Though we went through about his notebook and his secrets in his room, I felt like we didn't really get to know him until around halfway through the book when he opened up to Leo. At that point, I felt he opened up to us as well. I also wasn't really sure what the book was going to be about until it Leo's secret was also revealed. It was at that point when I became really invested.

Overall, I think the book was a good read. It thought the protagonists were rather refreshing and I think the story, though it starts slow, is a good read once you know all aspects of both the lead characters.
Profile Image for Fleurine.
93 reviews76 followers
February 6, 2017
Geweldig, mooi geschreven, origineel verhaal, alles wat je wilt lezen over dit onderwerp zit in dit boek. Zeker een aanrader, love it!
Profile Image for Becky (Blogs of a Bookaholic).
361 reviews229 followers
June 29, 2015
This review was originally published on Blogs of a Bookaholic.

An amazing step forward in diversity in publishing, not such a step forward in engrossing storytelling.
As both a reader and a psychology student, I’m always on the lookout for YA books that tackle serious topics and incorporate them into stories, whether that’s mental health, rare disorders or, in this case, gender identity. As a student, I was lucky enough to cover gender as a topic and it really opened my eyes, so I was excited to discover a novel about a transgender teen was being published this year! I couldn’t wait to see how such a complex topic would be handled.

Like many books being released lately, The Art of Being Normal uses a dual narrative technique, switching between the point of views of David and Leo. It reminded me a lot of Non Pratt’s novel, Trouble, in the sense that the point of view switches were snappy and seamless and both voices felt unique. I have to say I preferred Leo’s voice to David’s which was a bit of an issue for me, and there was nothing particularly unique or memorable about Williamson’s writing style for me to grab on to, but despite this, I still found myself consuming this novel at a rapid pace and finished it in just three days!

I really liked how the plot of The Art of Being Normal explored what it would be like to be transgender and the issues involved. David is sure that he wants to be a girl and has known this since he was 8. He religiously keeps track of his body changing in a notebook, experiencing mounting dismay each time he goes up a shoe size or becomes taller. To him, these are signs that his body is betraying him, puberty is turning him into something he does not want to be, yet he cannot bring himself to tell his parents to do something about it. To resent and hate your own body, to be constantly acting out a role when you don’t know your lines and the battle of trying to be ‘normal’ vs accepting who you truly are must be such a difficult thing to deal with. How do you find a romantic partner that accepts you? How do you avoid being bullied by peers? How do you go about living your life in a way that makes you feel happy?

Yet while I was impressed by Williamson’s discussion of this topic, I couldn’t help but want more. I guess I was hoping this novel would go into some of the darker and more serious issues such as the mental health problems (like increased depression and suicide rates) and extreme prejudice transgender people face. While there were a few scenes involving bullying, none of these emotionally impacted me or led me to feel horrified, and in general events seemed to go a bit too smoothly.

I also felt the plot of The Art of Being Normal was thin. Despite what I’ve said above about wanting this novel to delve into transgender issues further, it was also important for me that this book was able to stand in its own right, that it would be a good story with diverse characters and important issues as a bonus, and I don’t think Williamson achieved this. For the first half of this novel barely anything happened, and I’ll be honest, I was bored. Then the second half of the book added in a random left-field The Fault in Our Stars type road trip mission to search for Leo’s estranged father, which felt forced to me, as if it had been stuck in because the book needed a point of conflict. I was always expecting this novel to be a character driven with David and Leo’s friendship acting as the glue that held the book together, but unfortunately even this fell short for me and I never warmed to their friendship, making the lack of plot all the more apparent.

Even with the average writing and the oddly paced plot, this wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I had really connected to or become invested in the characters. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen either. I quite liked Leo and how much of an enigma he was, as one of the only students at Eden Park School from the bad part of town, with a dysfunctional family and some serious anger management issues, he had a sort of appealing roguish personality and his mysterious past drew me it. The other main protagonist David, however, felt flat, unmemorable and passive and didn’t exude any kind of personality at all which was frustrating, because he was the main reason I picked up the book! I feel like apart from being transgender, I learnt absolutely nothing about David except for one vague allusion to him liking fashion, and subsequently, he felt one dimensional and I didn’t warm to his character.

Overall, although the characters, writing and plot of The Art of Being Normal were distinctly average for me, I did ultimately enjoy this novel and whizzed through it quickly, and I still want to champion it for its diversity and bravery for breaking the mold. I really hope more books like this will be published in the future!
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