Kids Mastering THE ART OF BEING NORMAL–Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review May 2016

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m sharing a book that I totally enjoyed and think is a truly relevant read in this time of unsettling fears (unfounded IMHO) regarding transgender persons and their rights to free access/privacy. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL is a look into the life of teens who face gender dysmorphia–and may seek to transition. It’s a really excellent read I’d recommend to readers of all ages.

About the book:
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…

My Review:
This is a contemporary YA story about two teenagers struggling with gender identity. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so forgive me if this is a little light on plot summary.

The book is set in England, and is delightful in its Britishness.

David Piper wants to be a girl. He’s 14 and tracking how his “alien” body grows and sprouts and becomes something he cannot tolerate. Everyone thinks he’s gay–but he believes he’s a girl trapped in a male body, and spends hours lounging in cast-off girl clothes when his family is out and he is alone. He is a social misfit, having only two friends–and wants so desperately to tell his parents how he truly feels–that he is transgender–but is afraid to disappoint them. David attends Eden Park school, housed in a rather affluent neighborhood, and yet still containing all the rude elements of teen society–David’s bullied mercilessly by a group of classmates.

Leo Denton lives in Cloverdale, a very poor neighborhood. I believe the term “Council Estates” is one that would be applied–which is the British equivalent of “welfare housing” in the States. It’s a mess of a place and he and his two sisters live with their mother, a gal very much in the market for a decent man. Leo’s father split before he was even born, and Leo idolizes the idea of having a father. That isn’t so hard when his homelife is dismal. Leo was a star pupil at the Cloverdale school, he’s brilliant at Maths, but an “incident” has caused him to transfer to Eden Park.

David wants to reach out to Leo, senses his deep loneliness, but Leo brushes off most attempts at friendship, including David’s. Leo wants to keep his head down and not cause a stir–even though the whole of Eden Park’s students think Leo must have been a troublemaker–maybe even violent–to allow his transfer. One day, when David is being tormented by the bullies, Leo snaps–his temper really has been a problem in the past. Their mutual punishment–detention–puts them in close proximity. Leo feels bad for David, sees something in him that he recognizes in himself, and he offers to help David in math–a subject David is failing.

They develop a tentative friendship, and this is problematic for Leo. As is his attraction and budding friendship (maybe more) with Alicia a self-styled singer/songwriter and one of the class’ most popular girls.

This is such a fantastic and affirming story. There’s a bit of a love interest brewing between Alicia and Leo which leads to consequences only Leo could have seen coming. David is Leo’s staunchest friend and supporter, and when things go bad at school it is David who tries to fix them. David has his own challenges, and being friends with Leo, and learning from Leo’s struggles, allows him to build the skills and strength necessary to come out to his parents, and begin the path towards transitioning therapies. I don’t want to say that things got easier for David after those revelations, but many of his fears were assuaged and his contentment regarding becoming his true self: “Kate” was so spectacularly joyous.

This is a teen book, but it’s really clean. Also, it’s touching and tender and poignant and captivating. I found myself so rooting for both David and Leo to find their own “normal” which required them to be honest, build friendships and allies, and those activities surely assisted them in reaching their goals. It was a fantastic read for teens, particularly those who may also be questioning their gender identity. I say this because it was a candidly told story that felt relatable and with sufficient depth of both character and plot to be a realistic emotional resource. I really enjoyed!

Interested? You can find THE ART OF BEING NORMAL on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Paperback copies are on sale right now, but the ebook and hardcover will be released May 31st. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Be sure to hop on over to all the other blogs sharing their fave book of the month, and keep reading my friends!

4 thoughts on “Kids Mastering THE ART OF BEING NORMAL–Cephalopod Coffeehouse Review May 2016

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