“it’s like the jigsaw pieces that have been floating around in my head for the last couple of months have suddenly slotted together to form a picture.”
Lisa Williamson, The Art of Being Normal (2015)
The Art of Being Normal is a Young Adult book that addresses many difficult topics: identity, family, class, prejudice, friendship, ignorance and love. They are issues we struggle to deal with as adults, when we think we have everything figured out, but for a teenager who is just becoming aware of the world they are particularly terrifying.
The book is split into two perspectives. First we meet David Piper, a teenage boy who has known for a very long time that he’s not a boy at all. Really he’s a teenage girl, and while he knows this and has two brilliantly supportive best friends, he is scared of telling his parents and their possible reaction. It isolates him from his family. He hides his real self because of this fear and it means that some of the most pivotal moments of his life aren’t shared with his family. As a reader, you empathise with his growing frustration. He knows what he wants but has no idea how to get it.
Leo’s perspective fills the other chapters. A year older than David, he’s from Cloverdale estate which is considered the rougher part of town. He has a temperamental relationship with his mother. He blames her for the absence of his father. It’s this and the cruel bullying he endured at his previous school that have left him with a lot of residual anger and a wariness of others. Having moved to David’s school, Leo is determined to keep to himself but events lead to friendship between the two and as they grow closer they realise they share more than they originally thought.
David and Leo’s stories are worth the read. Williamson has devoted so much time to creating these characters and it shows. Their differing journeys demonstrate that every individual’s experience is unique- there is no right way of finding yourself. It’s a story that is uplifting and encouraging, and hopefully can provide strength and comfort to those facing similar journeys. Above all else, this book tells its readers that being normal isn’t really important, but being yourself is.