Just Another Book Club- May Book
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***Please be aware this is a book club discussion, so there is the possibility that my review or the comments left by others will contain spoilers***
This Is How It Always Is
This book tells the story of Rosie and Penn and their family of 5 boys. One day their youngest, Claude comes downstairs in a dress and wants to take a handbag to kindergarten. He also wants to grow his hair long and play with dolls. While other boys want to be fire officers or astronauts when they grow up, Claude says he wants to be a girl. This book looks at the complexities of parenthood and how it always is a leap into the unknown.
My Quick Review
This Is How It Always Is is a well written book and one that is easy to read. The two aspects of the book that I appreciated the most was how it looked at parenthood. No matter what issue your child has, no matter how big or small it is, the reader if they are a parent can relate to how we try and parent. The book looks into how parenting is incredibly unpredictable and how none of us as parents know what the future holds for our child. While this is somewhat terrifying, it was also a comfort to read this book and know that as parents we are all going through this unpredictability together. The other aspect of the book that I loved, is how this book raises important questions about gender identity. It’s a book that is incredibly well-informed (whilst the book is entirely fictional, the author’s daughter was once a boy) and as Rose and Penn have conflicting opinions on how to approach their situation, this illustrates the antagonising feelings surrounding transgender children.
The main negative side of the book is that I felt the whole trip to Thailand somewhat contrived. I felt it was a unbelievable coincidence that the mother was offered work in Thailand, was able to take her transgender child and that the main person she worked with also happened to be transgender. I felt the enlightenment that both Rosie and Poppy gained from this trip could have been achieved through other more believable circumstances. The other slightly negative side of the book was the use of fairytales to explain the situation. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a fan of most fantasy, so I was never going to be a big fan of this part of the book. However, as a reader I also found it a tad patronising having things explained to me in the form of a fairytale.
In conclusion, this is a fascinating book that approaches a very difficult subject. It wasn’t the ground breaking, tear inducing novel that I expected, but it is definitely worth a read.
I loved these two quotes from the book:
How did you teach your small human that it’s what’s inside that counts when the truth was everyone was pretty preoccupied with what you put on over the outside too?
You never know. You only guess. This is how it always is. You have to make these huge decisions on behalf of your kid, this tiny human whose fate and future is entirely in your hands, who trusts you to know what’s good and right and then to be able to make that happen. You never have enough information. You don’t get to see the future. And if you screw up, and with your incomplete, contradictory information you make the wrong call, well, nothing less than your child’s entire future and happiness is at stake. It’s impossible. It’s heartbreaking. It’s maddening. But there’s no alternative.
Questions to Consider
- How authentic do you think the author’s portrayal of a family and family life is? Do you find her depiction of the children and their sibling dynamics true to life?
- How are traditional gender roles explored through the characters of Rosie and Penn? Are they portrayed as conforming to, or defying traditional roles?
- Explore the use of fairy tales in the novel and the effects of this narrative device.
- When Claude first begins to wear dresses and identifies as female, what contrasts are drawn between how other children react to his transformation and how adults react?
- When Rosie and Penn discuss what course Poppy should take before puberty, Rosie says: “When a little girl wants to wear jeans and play soccer, her parents are thrilled, but when a little boy wants to wear a dress and play dolls, his parents send him to therapy and enrol him in a study.” Are young boys more constrained by gender stereotypes than young girls?
- “Didn’t you know then, the doctors said later? Weren’t you listening?” Discuss how the role of a parent, and the dilemma of what parenting means, is explored in the novel.
- Secrets are a central theme in the novel. Do you think that Rosie and Penn made the right decision in keeping Poppy’s past a secret when they moved to Seattle?
- Poppy’s transgender identity mean that Rosie and Penn prioritise her needs within the family, and they decide to uproot their life and move across the country. What other family situations can result in parents having to prioritise the needs of one child over their others?
- After Jane Doe’s trauma, Rosie thinks, “Head colds should be tolerated.Children should be celebrated.” What is the difference between tolerance and acceptance? Acceptance and celebration?
- Towards the end of the novel we travel to Thailand. Why do you think the author chose to take the characters here and what aspects of the Thai culture were explored?
- “You think your generation invented kids who are different?” How does the novel make you question your own attitudes to gender identity, difference and the acceptance of others?
(Questions provided by the publisher)
June’s book is Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. I’ll be starting the conversation for this on Monday 2nd July.
A list of all the books we read for the first half of 2018 can be found here
***I’ll be publishing a new list of books for the second half of the year next Monday 11th June. There will be a slight amendment as to how the Just Another Book Club will run from now on too***
I’ve finally sorted out my Goodreads page, so as a few people have asked, you can view it here