The Art of Being Normal begins in the point of view of David, a closeted transgender teenager and adorable bundle of teen anxiety. If you think this sounds like a literary after-school special, you’re right. It reminded me of a U.K. version of Degrassi, all bright colors and dramatic music playing at the end of chapters. Besides worrying about how to come out to his loving parents and hoping to be able to transition before puberty makes it harder, David hangs out with his two cardboard-cutout friends, gets bullied at school, and lazes about. He is the definition of a normal teenager. Then he meets the mysterious Leo Denton, the new boy at school with a bad boy edge, and things start to change.
I would recommend this mainly for middle schoolers or freshmen in high school. Any older than that and this novel is too wholesome. There’s slight drinking and the mention of sex but the characters still have the wide-eyed wonder of middle grade characters. The plot twist about what Leo Denton’s deal really is was cheap and easily guessed. The value in The Art of Being Normal is that it’s a book about a transgender person with a sunny perspective. Stories like this are important for young people struggling with gender identity. We get a lot of harsh stories about how hard it is to be different. The Art of Being Normal tells young people that there is hope in community.
My only big complaint: I’m not an expert on the subject, but I think this story made physical transition with hormones seem both accessible and affordable for teenagers, and that doesn’t seem true to me.
If you’re just an adult reader looking for an interesting YA novel to read, I’d look elsewhere, unless you really have your heart set on something with a transgender main character and have read everything else. If you’re an English or Health teacher, this is a decent book to consider reading or assigning to your teenage students.
The Art of Being Normal will be in bookstores in the U.S. on May 31, 2016.