cover image This Is How It Always Is

This Is How It Always Is

Laurie Frankel. Flatiron, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-08855-0

Frankel's third novel is about the large, rambunctious Walsh-Adams family. While Penn writes his "DN" (damn novel) and spins fractured fairy tales from the family's ramshackle farmhouse in Madison, Wis., Rosie works as an emergency physician. Four sons have made the happily married couple exhausted and wanting a daughter; alas, their fifth is another boy. Extraordinarily verbal little Claude is quirky and clever, traits that run in the family, and at age three says, "I want to be a girl." Claude is the focus, but Frankel captures the older brothers' boyish grossness. She also fleshes out his two eldest brothers, who worry about Claude's safety when Rosie and Penn agree that Claude can be Poppy at school. But coming out further isolates this unique child. Encouragement from a therapist and an accepting grandma can go just so far; Poppy only blossoms after the Walsh-Adamses move to progressive Seattle and keep her trans status private, although what is good for Poppy is increasingly difficult on her brothers. The story takes a darker turn when she is outed; Rosie and her youngest must find their footing while Penn stays at home with the other kids. Frankel's (The Atlas of Love) slightly askew voice, exemplified by Rosie and Penn's nontraditional gender roles, keeps the narrative sharp and surprising. This is a wonderfully contradictory story%E2%80%94heartwarming and generous, yet written with a wry sensibility. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Literary Agency. (Jan.)