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'This Is How It Always Is' Was Inspired By Its Author's Transgender Child

Writer Laurie Frankel has written a novel about a family with five boys in which the youngest feels he's something entirely different — a girl. It's called This Is How It Always Is, and it's a story that's close to Frankel's heart because she's living it: Her own child was born a boy and now identifies as a girl.

That's where the similarities end. Frankel tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "The nice thing about my life is that it's pretty boring, which is really how you want your life to be — but not how you want your novel to be. So in fact, this really is ... very, very made up."

Interview Highlights

On how she reacted when her child first expressed an interest in being a girl

She wanted to wear a dress — and she was a he at the time — and we said OK. It didn't inspire panic. It didn't seem to be anything to be worried about or alarmed about. It seemed like pretend. ... She was 6, she had just turned 6, and it seemed like she was just playing and having fun. And she was just playing and having fun and trying things on. It's just that it stuck.

On striking a balance between letting kids express themselves and protecting them

I think that putting all of your faith in the decision-making powers of your small children is probably not the best way forward for anyone. In the book what happens is that they feel their way through, and I think that that's what all of us do in parenting in general. You make a judgement call and you take your best guess and you take a shot and you hope for the best. And if it works that's wonderful; and if it doesn't then you modify. That's what parenting is, is figuring out that balance between letting your kids be who they are and protecting them from the world they have to live in. ...

Sometimes I feel like letting my kid out of the house every morning is the hardest thing I do all day. And, again, I think that's the hallmark of parenting: No one out there in the world is ever going to love my kid or get my kid as much as I will, and yet I gotta let her go every day anyway.

On what she hopes readers will get out of her book

I think it is a topic that scares people and I think that in part that's because they haven't met anyone — or they don't know that they've met anyone — who is impacted by these issues. There are a lot of transgender people and there are even more people who are gender nonconforming, and these little kids are just kids. They are the least scary people you can imagine.

So one of the things that I hope is that people who read this book will read it and forget about the transgender issues and just be in the embrace of this family and realize that this family is like all families: They love and they keep secrets from one another and they protect one another and they struggle with how to do that and they have these challenges. And it's hard, but it isn't scary and it isn't abnormal at all.

Oh how her daughter feels about the book

She loves it. She thinks that all books should be written about her. She cannot actually imagine why I would ever consider writing a book about anything else. And she's a big reader, but it is a book for adults. It is not appropriate for her. But I am certainly mindful of the fact, and was while I was writing it, that she will read it someday. And I hope that she will love it, of course, but I also know that she will see that it's — that it really is not about her. It's really very fictionalized. And I hope very much that the plot and heartbreak and drama and near misses that happen in this novel, I hope that they will never happen to her.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.