Fourteen-year-old David Piper has always been an outsider. The school bully thinks he’s a freak and his parents think he’s gay. Only David’s two best friends know the truth – David wants to be a girl. When Leo Denton starts his new school, he wants to be invisible but attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven doesn’t really help matters. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, things start to get out of hand as an unlikely friendship forms, because nothing stays secret for long at Eden Park School.
While celebrities who are coming out as transgender have become more common over the past few years and transgender issues are getting covered by the media, it is still something very rarely talked about in young adult literature. The Art of Being Normal shines a light on what it’s like being a young person struggling with their identity and being transgender.
When he was eight and was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, David said he wanted to be a girl. Since then he struggled with who he is, is envious of his younger sister and doesn’t know how to talk to his parents. It’s tough being a teenager anyway but when you’re a teenager in the wrong body life is even more difficult for David.
Leo has a rough home life, with a mother who isn’t that attentive to her children, and there’s rarely any food in the house. The fact that his dad left him when he was very young is almost constantly on Leo’s mind and Leo just doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Leo is presumed to be this violent, troubled boy by his peers and he does nothing to dissuade that assumption because all he wants to do is be alone. His feelings for Alicia and his friendship with David slowly starts to change that.
All the characters in The Art of Being Normal seem pretty well-rounded and realistic. David’s two best friends Felix and Essie, are incredibly supportive of David and do everything they can to help him. Alicia, the girl Leo fancies, is great as she looks at Leo as more than the “crazy bad boy” persona he’s putting on in front of everyone, and even though she’s one of the more popular kids she doesn’t see a problem with being friends with who she likes. Leo’s sister Alice is supportive to the extent Leo will let her be, and between the two of them they look after their younger sister Tia.
Not only does The Art of Being Normal focus heavily on the life of a transgender teen but it also touches on difficult topics like the class system and bullying. The way bulling is handled in the school (or not handled as the case may be) was very true to life and often frustrating.
The Art of Being Normal is a memorable and important book that deserves to be read by everyone, no matter their age. 5/5.