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Literature / The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is a 2015 novel about a closeted 14-year old trans girl who befriends the new boy at her school.

Kate Piper, deadname David, is a fourteen year old Transgender girl who cannot bring herself to come out to her family. Her two only friends know and support her through and through, but she is seen as an outcast at school. Kate believes she will never truly be happy in her own skin, but the arrival of a mysterious new student soon changes everything. Leo Denton, transferred to Eden Park from the local 'sink school' of Cloverdale for unknown 'special reasons', just wants to be left alone. But the day he rescues Kate from a public hazing marks the start of a tentative friendship. And Leo may or may not have a secret of his own...


This book provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Leo's mother story, which is brought up so frequently that you'd think the events of the book are building to some great, shocking reveal... which in the end never happens.
  • The Ace: Both Zachary Olsen and Alicia Baker are popular, attractive and talented in what they both do, respectively sports and music.
  • Adult Fear: Imagine being in Leo's mother's shoes when he leaves for Kent: her son, with whom she already has a strained relationship, goes missing right after they have a spat, and she has absolutely no way of knowing whether he's even alive or not. You can only imagine what was going through the poor woman's head, especially since Leo was already attacked once.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Leo certainly isn't a Bad Boy per se, but is perceived as this among the Eden Park girls once they start noticing how attractive he is.
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  • Alpha Bitch: Lexi Taylor, and later in the story Becky Somerville.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Kate and her little sister Livvy both view their parents as this.
  • Anger Born of Worry: Aunt Kerry gives Leo an Armor-Piercing Slap and furiously chews him out when he comes home after two days.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Tia is viewed as this by Leo most of the time, but he loves her very much.
  • Attempted Rape: Though this is never outright stated, Leo's classmates are heavily implied to have had such intentions when they attacked him in the woods. What really cements it is this absolutely chilling line from Alex Bonner:
"I think it's time you remembered what you really are."
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: After sniping at each other for most of the book, Kate and Livvy have a very sweet moment at the dance where Kate comforts her little sister after she has a fight with her best friend.
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  • Be Yourself: The main message of the story.
  • Beta Bitch: Ruby Webber to Becky Somerville.
  • Birthday Hater: Kate. Each birthday only reminds her of how little time she has left before she becomes too old to physically pass as female.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: More like preteenage, but Livvy Piper comes off as this a lot of the time.
  • Broken Pedestal: Leo, who has never met his father, idealizes him as a dashing adventurer, who he is certain misses Leo just as much as Leo misses him. When he finally does meet him, it transpires that Jonathan Denton has a whole new life as an upper class family man, and wants absolutely nothing to do with Leo.
  • The Bully: Harry Beaumont has been tormenting Kate since they were small children. Alex Bonner is a darker example.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Kate teeters on the edge of coming out to her parents multiple times, but simply cannot bring herself to do it.
  • Cassandra Truth: Leo's mother claims his father abandoned her when she was still pregnant, which Leo scoffs at. Later turns out that she was telling the truth all along.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Kate's "inspection notebook", which she uses to keep track of the changes her body goes through. She accidentally stuffs it into her school bag, only to have it taken fom her by Harry Beaumont at the cafeteria. Leo intervenes before Harry can out her, which kicks off a major part of the plot.
  • Cheerful Child: Tia.
  • Childhood Friends: Kate, Essie and Felix.
  • Cool Big Sis: Leo's twin sister Amber.
  • Cool Down Hug: Kate gives one to Leo after he gets coldly rejected by his father.
  • Crash-Into Hello: Leo and Alicia's Meet Cute.
  • The Cutie: Tia is absolutely adorable.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: What Leo firmly believes for most of the book, but ultimately and heart-breakingly subverted.
  • Dance Party Ending: Just before the epilogue.
  • Disappeared Dad : Leo has never met his birth father, and believes his mother drove him away. He's wrong.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Harry makes Kate's life hell on a daily basis, but almost outs her the one time she dares to fight back - and for something she did unintentionally.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Do not call Leo Megan.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Kate finally gains the courage to come out to her parents and live her truth, and is much happier as a result. Leo finally moves forward, and gets to relax and trust people for a change.
  • Family Eye Resemblance: Leo and Amber have their father's unusual eyes, sea green with amber flecks.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Leo comes out as trans to his crush Alicia, but she rejects him. Alicia's friends find out his secret and out him to the entire school.
  • Friendly Scheming: Essie, Felix and Leo secretly organize an entire dance just so Kate and other outcast kids can actually have a good time, and even get Kate a dress, makeup and shoes to wear.
  • Genki Girl: Kate is this when allowed to be her true self. She seems to get it from her mother.
  • Good Parents: Mr and Mrs Piper, who desperately wish Kate would open up to them. They sweetly extend this kindness to Leo.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: Leo's mother's story is alluded to all through the book, but we only get bits of it from Kerry.
  • Grumpy Bear: Leo is gruff and misanthropic (at least in the beginning).
  • Half-Identical Twins: An interesting case here: Amber and Leo were born a set of identical twin girls, but Leo (born Megan) never identified as such.
  • Happily Married: Kate's parents are this, in sharp contrast to Leo's single parent household.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Kate and Leo discuss the upcoming Christmas Ball. When Leo asks what it consists of exactly, Kate innocently asks him "You didn't have balls at Cloverdale?", causing Leo to snort. Doubles as very subtle foreshadowing when it turns out that Leo is trans.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Leo looks sharp in a grey prom suit.
  • Height Angst: Kate is 168 centimeters (5'6) and doesn't want to get any taller. She's only fourteen, so it's still possible that she'll grow more (especially if she doesn't go on hormone blockers soon).
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Applies to Leo, who momentarily drops the tough guy act when he meets Kate's dog Phil.
  • Heroic BSoD: Leo gets a case of this after his disastrous reunion with his father.
  • Homophobic Hate Crime: Leo is a trans boy who transferred schools because of a hate crime. A few people at his school led him into the woods, slashed his clothes, and tried to shred off his chest binder.
  • Hypocrite: Lexi Taylor calls Kate "Freakshow" on the regular, but gets offended the one time she retaliates with a tame "Bubble Brain".
  • I Am Not Pretty: Poor Kate...
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Kate almost says this word for word to Leo at the Mermaid Inn in Tripton. He disagrees.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Runs in the Piper family.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Leo's mother has these on at all times. Ironically, she plays a lot of bingo.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Leo's mother.
  • Jerkass: Harry Beaumont, Lexi Taylor, Tom Kerry, Becky Somerville, Jonathan Denton.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Leo's jaded mother isn't wrong to warn her children that life isn't always fair, but could go about it in a different manner. She definitely wasn't lying about the twins' father abandoning her.
  • Just Friends: Kate and Leo, in spite of Essie's assumption that Kate fancies Leo.
  • Karma Houdini: Becky Somerville never gets her comeuppance for outing Leo to the entire school. Unless you count Alicia not speaking to her anymore. And the school taking proper action to raise awareness for Transgender Identity. That'd be pretty humiliating after what she did.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Harry Beaumont almost outs Kate in the middle of the cafeteria, but not before Leo breaks his nose.
  • Mama Bear: Kerry reveals that Leo's mother personally went to have it out with Alex Bonner after Leo's attack in the woods. It is implied that Alex's mother Annette badmouthed Leo, which led to her getting beaten up in Alex's place.
  • Maybe Ever After: Alicia unexpectedly shows up to Leo's house on Boxing Day to apologize to him, and he agrees to start over as friends.
  • Memento Macguffin: Leo's only photograph of his father.
  • Mentor in Queerness: In a way, more experienced Leo is this to closeted Kate as the first other trans person she has ever met.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The story begins with the protagonist telling of a class project that happened when she was eight. The kids wrote about what they wanted to be when they grow up. Kate wrote that she wanted to be a girl. The flashback stops there, but it's not hard to guess what happened afterwards.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Kate, a closeted transgender girl, is mistaken for a gay boy by her parents, by Leo, and by most people in general.
  • Nice Girl: Alicia Baker is not only beautiful but genuinely nice to Leo right from the get go. Though she does react rather negatively when Leo comes out to her, she keeps his secret to herself, and apologizes to him at the end of the book.
  • Nice Guy: Leo's mother's new boyfriend Spike is nothing but kind and friendly towards Leo and his sisters, even though the former openly and persistently dislikes him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Leo saves Kate from her tormentor only to have all three of them stuck in detention, Leo for punching Harry, Harry for instigating the fight in the first place, and Kate for making Harry bite his own tongue when she elbowed him in the face in self defence.
  • No Name Given: Kate's father's name is never said, though her mother's name is Jo. Similarly Leo's father Jimmy/Jonathan's name is brought up frequently, but his mother's name (Samantha) only finally shows up in the second half of the book.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Spike, whose real name is Kevin. Also Leo's dad Jimmy, which as it turns out is short for Jonathan and not James.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Kate says her parents believe themselves to be this, and they are actually very accepting of what they (mistakenly) think their child's big secret is. Bless their hearts, they try their best with all their might to be supportive when Kate's coming out doesn't exactly turn out the way they expected it to.
    • For all the things that Leo and his mother disagree on, his gender identity isn't one of them.
  • Opposites Attract: Essie is a high energy punk rocker; Felix is a softspoken geek with lots of allergies. And yet, they are an Official Couple right from the get go.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Well, Junior High, but the narration goes to great lengths to hammer into the reader just how painfully ordinary Kate is, demonstrated by an informed lack of talent in a lot of things, like maths, singing, sewing... which considering that the narrator for the most part is Kate, might also just be her own poor self image.
  • Parental Sexuality Squick: Kate briefly mentions having bumped into one or both of her parents naked in the middle of the night "enough times to be scarred for life".
    • Similarly Leo isn't too fond of his mother's excessive PDA with her boyfriend.
  • Perky Goth: Essie is implied to be this.
  • Pet the Dog: Though Livvy's status as Kate's bratty younger sister is established pretty early on, she still gives her big sister a nice and thoughtful birthday present.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Leo's mother is 'tiny, built like a sparrow' but beat up Annette Bonner, who according to Leo, looks like The Terminator.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Kate and Leo, while they grow very close, are more likely to become this than a couple.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Leo is a grump while his twin sister Amber is more carefree; Where their Disappeared Dad is concerned, Leo is an idealist while Amber is a realist.
  • Police Are Useless: Invoked word-for-word by Kerry after Leo finally comes home after having been missing for two days.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The primary motive for all the bullying dished out on Kate and Leo essentially boils down to homophobia and transphobia.
  • Reality Ensues: Looking at you, Leo. Longing to meet your Disappeared Dad is understandable enough, but this is some guy who couldn't even be bothered to stick around until his children were born. Father of the year, folks.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mr Toolan, head teacher at Eden Park school, has a zero tolerance policy on physical violence but doesn't appear to do much where bullying is concerned. He is also aware of why Leo was transferred. After Leo is outed, Mr Toolan quickly springs into action.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Zachary Olsen doesn't get much characterization outside of existing as Kate's handsome, popular crush who doesn't seem aware that she even exists, nor does he get any lines of dialogue. She seems to be over him by the end of the story.
  • Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Felix and Essie, Leo and Kate.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Leo pulls this when Becky outs him.
  • Secret Keeper: Essie and Felix to Kate; Kate becomes this to Leo.
  • Shipper on Deck: It's only mentioned once, but Essie ships Kate/Leo.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: Felix wears glasses and is easily the brainiac of the trio.
  • Smug Snake: Becky Somerville deliberately provokes Leo with a transphobic slur and revels in the fact that he can't retaliate without getting into trouble.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Leo is pretty much a carbon copy of his Disappeared Dad. Kate also takes after her own father; understandably, she's not happy about it.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Leo's mother has three children to provide for but works at a launderette, not to mention that it is her third job of the month at the time the story starts.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The Eden Park student body, who have apparently never heard of transgender identity, think that Leo is this, making Alicia Sweet on Polly Oliver by association.
  • Tears of Joy: Essie when she sees her best friend Kate in her ballgown.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Seeking to praise Kate on her bravery, poor Simon Allen tells her that she's 'got proper balls'. He realizes the very next second that that wasn't the right thing to say, and immediately corrects himself. Kate is actually touched.
  • Their First Time: Alicia attempts to initiate this between herself and Leo on Bonfire Night. Leo is then forced to come out.
  • Third Wheel: Kate can't help but inevitably feel this way around Essie and Felix.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Felix and Essie; Leo and Kate for obvious reasons.
  • Token Good Teammate: Alicia Baker to her popular Girl Posse.
  • Token Minority: Alicia Baker is one of few black students at Eden Park school.
  • Transgender:
    • Kate is a trans girl who wants to be out but is too scared to come out of the closet.
    • Leo is a trans boy.
  • Trans Relationship Troubles: Leo gets rejected by his crush after coming out and then gets Forced Out of the Closet by his crush's friends.
  • Transparent Closet: Mr and Mrs Piper have suspected Kate of being in the closet for a long time, and hint many times that it is safe to come out to them. The problem is that Kate knows full well that they've got the wrong end of the stick, and can't bring herself to tell them the truth.
  • True Blue Femininity: Kate wears a lovely, periwinkle blue gown to the dance.
  • The Unfavorite: Poor Kate sees herself as this compared to her pretty, well-adjusted little sister Livvy.
  • Unsettling Gender Reveal: Specifically unsettling biological sex reveal, since Leo is transgender. He is forced to come out to Alicia when he runs out of excuses for why he can't have sex with her. The shock of the reveal causes Alicia to not speak to Leo for weeks.
  • Uptown Girl: Alicia is from a much wealthier background than her crush Leo (see also Wrong Side of the Tracks).
  • Wham Line: "I was born a girl."
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Used platonically when Kate meets Leo. Kate monologues that Leo's eyes are "beautiful, hypnotic, like looking through a kaleidoscope almost—sea green with amber flecks around the pupils". The rest of the female student body certainly isn't immune.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Leo gets one from his aunt Kerry upon returning from his brief escapade to Kent.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Brought up word for word by Leo, who is from Cloverdale, which is definitely more working-class than the gentrified Eden Park (see also Uptown Girl).
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Essie has a predilection for dying her hair lots of different colors. By the end of the book, it's bright red.

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