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Rosie wanted nothing more than a little girl that she could name after her sister, Poppy, who died of childhood cancer. So when she and Penn decided to conceive their fifth child, she did every superstitious thing imaginable to make sure that this time, that baby would be a girl. Maybe that’s why Claude was the way he was. While his four older brothers played in the mud and crashed toy train sets, Claude wanted to wear dresses and play princess. And when he grew up, he wanted to be a girl.
All Rosie and Penn want–for each of their children–is for them to be happy. And if being a girl will make their youngest happy, they will facilitate that change however they can, even if it means moving across the country to famously-tolerant Seattle. But in a new community, telling the story of Poppy-who-used-to-be-Claude turns out to be complicated, and almost immediately, Claude becomes a secret. He weighs on the family, especially Poppy’s older brothers. Only Poppy seems to have forgotten he ever existed. Unfortunately, secrets can’t stay hidden forever, and in the aftermath, it will take a journey to the other side of the world for Poppy–and Claude–to find themselves.
A beautifully told story with equal doses of humor and heart, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS captures the emotional journey of parenting a nonbinary child. Despite the family’s unwavering love and support of their child, there are always questions Poppy will have to answer for herself and an undercurrent of uncertainty, Rosie and Penn never quite sure whether they are making too many decisions or not enough decisions or helping in the right ways or the wrong ways–in other words, parenting a nonbinary child is parenting. This is how it always is.
By joining Rosie and Penn in their emotional journey, readers will come to a deeper understanding of the complex challenges of navigating the world as a nonbinary person or an adult who loves a nonbinary child. Its unique perspective makes this novel an important addition to the slowly growing literature that authentically represents the diversity of queer experiences. I highly recommend it to readers of contemporary and/or literary fiction, adult book clubs, and all public library collections.