Book Review: The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)

Publisher: David Fickling Books

Pages: 368

Release Date: January 1st 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…


There was such a hype around this book this year, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it. In my defence, I guess it’s not really my type of thing – my usual diet is fantasy and sci-fi – but I’ve been branching out a lot this year and trying to get in a variety of books.

This book hits the spot on so many levels. I love the diversity of the characters: some are expected, given the nature of the book, but it’s just so refreshing to see a variety of people in a story, as you would in real life.

It’s easy to connect to David: he’s so brave and, despite everything that comes at him, he still manages, for the most part, to stay cheery. I was rooting for him from the beginning and spent most of the book praying that his parents would accept him and the people at school wouldn’t be mean to him. Although I guess there’d be little story there if everything went like that…

Leo is a great contrast to David, yet still manages to remain likeable. I loved the fact that I had no idea what Leo’s secret was: it came as a complete surprise to me, which could be me being a bit slow on the uptake, and on hindsight I felt it should have been obvious, but I love the fact it wasn’t.

I worried sometimes that it was veering into the cheesy, especially with the ‘alternative ball’ at the end, but any time I thought that it snapped me back with a cold dose of reality. The only character I didn’t get on too well with was Alicia – she sometimes felt a little manic pixie dream girl – but she did redeem herself towards the end.

There were a few really emotional moments, especially when David ‘came out’ as it were, to his parents. It got me teary eyed on the bus to work. I like how nothing really felt sugar-coated: things don’t always work out well, people aren’t always going to be accepting of these situations, but there will always be people who support and love you, and you have to do what’s right for you.

A little personal tangent…

This book made me reflect a lot on a friend I had at university. I made friends with James* in my second year, and when James became Lily** the next year we stayed the same, and for me, nothing really felt different. But this book made me think about how hard that must have been for her. While we had a group of friends who were all very accepting, I know she had problems with other people who were not so nice, and I hate the idea that any of them made her feel the way David does sometimes in this book.

Back to the book.

There’s a hype about this book for a reason, and it’s not just because it’s on a subject that not many people seem willing to talk about, especially not in YA fiction. It’s also beautifully written with honest, fragile characters that can teach us a lot about how we treat other people, whatever gender they identify with.

*I’m using fake names

** Apparently from Harry Potter…

My Verdict:


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