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THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel

Wooh boy. I am behind!

I finished a book last week but haven’t reviewed it yet (that’s what this post is for). And I am in the middle of four other books. (This is what happens to me with non-fiction… I get a little mired.) I’m doing the Bruce Springsteen memoir on audio, and it’s a bit slow and meandering (although I love commuting to work with The Boss every morning). I’m savoring The War Bride’s Scrapbook, which is really fun. I’m reading an overdue (gasp!) library book called Too Slutty, Too Fat, Too Loud and it’s a week overdue, which is stressing me out. And I am also reading The Leavers, which I said was going to be my first book of 2018,  but which still isn’t done.

AND I am leaving on an international trip next week and have to pick books for the trip, which is going to be a challenge because there are Just. So. Many. Books.


So let’s get to the way overdue review. My book club read This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel over the break and we discussed it last week. It’s about a family (parents Rosie and Penn) who have four sons and then a fifth one. But their fifth son is a girl inside a boy’s body. From an early age, Claude wears dresses and insists that he is a girl. How should parents react when their son insists he’s their daughter? If they support his dressing like a girl , how much should they intervene at school? Who should they tell, and at what age?

This Is How It Always Is explores the tough decisions faced by Rosie and Penn, who want nothing more than to support Claude – then Poppy – and make her as comfortable and happy as possible, while still tending to the needs of their four other children. They move from Madison to Seattle when Poppy is 6 to give her a fresh start where she isn’t known as “the transgender child”, but that decision proves fateful too. Without giving it much thought, Rosie and Penn decide to keep Poppy’s birth gender a secret when they arrive in Seattle, so while Poppy settles in well with a group of girls and is happy in her new home and school, there is a constant undercurrent of fear and tension while the family waits for the secret to get out. And of course, it does.

Reading has made me a better parent, or at least a more understanding parent, in that it has introduced me to a lot of situations and parenting challenges that I haven’t faced and shown me how complicated they can be. It’s so easy to judge from the outside. But when you get inside the house and get to know the kids and see the uniqueness of every situation, you really start to understand what it’s like. This Is How It Always Is is one of those books that makes you ask yourself, over and over again, how you’d handle the same situation.

Like in Goodbye For Now, Frankel’s writing is smart, funny and full of empathy. My book club loved this book – they found it very moving and compelling. It’s not preachy… it’s human. Totally realistic. Messy at times, but well-intentioned and full of love. Recommended!

GOODBYE FOR NOW by Laurie Frankel

A fellow book blogger, Catherine of Gilmore Guide to Books, recommended a book by Laurie Frankel as one of her top reads of the year. I am reading that book now – This Is How It Always Is – and when I was researching it, I came across another one of Frankel’s books that caught my eye. That book showed up on audio sooner than the other one, so I picked it up first.

Goodbye For Now is a novel set in Seattle. When it opens, Sam and Meredith are coworkers at an online dating company, Sam a programmer and Meredith in marketing. Sam develops an algorithm that identifies soul mates, which identifies Meredith as his perfect match. They start dating and fall in love, and all goes well until Sam is laid off and Meredith’s grandmother dies. Meredith is devastated, and desperate to make her feel better, Sam creates a program that mines all of Meredith’s emails from and video chats with her grandmother and creates a posthumous, digital version of her capable of interacting with Meredith on her computer. Meredith is horrified at first, but as soon as she finishes their “chat”, she wants to do it again.

From this experiment, a company called RePose is born. The recently bereaved hire RePose to create digital alter egos of their loved ones, and then come to RePose’s office to interact with them. Word of this new service spreads quickly throughout Seattle, and Sam and Meredith find themselves very busy with their new venture.

Goodbye For Now is a thought-provoking exploration of death, grieving and the ways in which survivors try to comfort themselves. There are many types of deaths in Goodbye For Now – sudden ones, deaths after long illnesses, deaths of children, spouses and parents, deaths of friends. There are even non-deaths, as families with loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s sign up for RePose to be reminded of what they were like before the disease. Does RePose actually help the people left behind? Or does it keep them from moving on? What about the people who can talk more freely and honestly to the RePose version of their dead spouse than they could to the living one, while he was alive? And does RePose put pressure on the dying, who feel they need to create a positive, happy digital archive for their families so that they can have positive, happy conversations after they’ve died?

Heavy stuff. And I haven’t even mentioned the deaths that actually happen in the book.

I love Frankel’s writing and her sense of humor. She’s smart and thoughtful, which shows through in both Goodbye For Now and This Is How It Always Is. I wish we were friends IRL – she seems like a very cool person. (Laurie – friend me!) I also liked Sam and Meredith’s relationship, which was not plagued with conflict (unusual for a novel) but was built on love, attraction and respect.

Overall, I liked Goodbye For Now, though it dragged in places and seemed to take a while to get through. There is a lot of detail and a lot of conversation, some of which could have been trimmed. But it’s a moving and sad book, and it’s one that will stay with me for a long time. If you can stomach the sadness and grieving, it’s a worthwhile investment.

I listened to Goodbye For Now on audio. It was narrated by Kirby Heyborne, and even though it was written in third person, he was the perfect narrator for Sam, the main character. He sounded like a programmer – precise and focused, yet kind and passionate (and emotionally broken, when necessary). The audio was well done and I recommend it, though it too was a little long.