This Is How It Always Is: A Literary Hug

Family and change: two of the world's most favorite topics.

Fairy tales, Wisconsin, and Familial Dysfunction! What more could you want?

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever read. Granted, I am only seventeen and I frequent the Colleen Hoover section of Kindle Unlimited. I stumbled upon this book actually when I was desperately trying to get out of a reading slump. Thank goodness for Amazon recommendations, right? Filled with love, family, and change, this story is guaranteed to feel like a hug from your grandmother on a Sunday. Laurie Frankel has created a masterpiece that every single person can learn something from.

Penn and Rosie first meet after going on a blind date set up by a girl in Penn’s Medieval Literature class. Penn knew it was love before even at first sight. Rosie was in her first year of her residency after medical school and had no desire to be in a relationship. Naturally, as all men in fiction do, he waited for her. He was in the process of writing a novel so he sat in the waiting room of the emergency room where Rosie worked and wrote. She would come in occasionally and ask him the obvious questions: “Do you know how many germs are in this waiting room? Didn’t I tell you I don’t want a boyfriend? Shouldn’t you get some sleep?” Twenty-eight hours later, she agreed to go for dinner. They eventually went back to Rosie’s apartment and Penn told her a bedtime story of a prince named Grumwald who felt as if he didn’t deserve his crown. After that, the rest is history.

It’s a love story that’s seemingly mundane, but what makes it so special is what it becomes. Years later, they have five kids and live in Wisconsin in a farmhouse that is worn and beautiful just like their family. They have Roo, Ben, Rigel, Orion, and Claude. Rosie always wanted a girl she could name Poppy after her late sister. Claude came and was not the girl she had hoped for, but she loved him all the same. When Claude was three, he discovered his mother’s dresses. He decided he would be a girl scientist who wore dresses under her lab coat when he grew up. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Slowly, Claude realizes she is a girl. She decides to call herself Poppy, after her aunt.

Rosie and Penn are constantly trying to help their child figure out who they want to be, while also dealing with the heartbreak of understanding that her life is only going to get harder from here. You want your child to be okay and you want to protect them from everything, but at some point they have to learn for themselves. All of this change isn’t easy: every single one of Poppy’s siblings is affected by it. As a family, they all let their own happiness take a back seat. They sacrifice and they fight for her. Roo beats up kids on the playground and Rigel and Orion change the subject. Penn furthers the story of Grumwald. Almost always the prince is in an entirely different but similar situation to Poppy. The change is addressed first through the adventures of Grumwald, and then the real characters go through it as well. It gives the book a consistency throughout that is easy to love and digest before introducing the real-life conflicts that are not always that way.

The plot in this story is incredible, but it’s the writing that’s even more impressive. It’s as if you’re sitting and listening to a story being told. However, it is not relatable to the point that it feels almost cliche. While this book may not be an attention grabber, it most definitely is a comfort read. The characters become so familiar and full of emotion that you yourself start to have difficulty discerning your own feelings and theirs. My favorite quote from the book is said right after Poppy has started to fully transition. When adjusting to their daughter, Rosie and Penn come to realize “It is what you never imagine can be lost that is the hardest to live without.” Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a relationship, or a friendship we can all resonate with this. It’s no secret that literature creates a sense of community. I think a big reason why this book spoke to me so much was because of how real it was. I am not a parent, but it is easy for me to understand Rosie’s frustration with Penn not thinking logically or Penn’s frustration for Rosie only seeing things in black and white. These day-to-day interactions are part of the charm that made me connect to the characters so quickly. The writing only gets better and better as the novel progresses.

Frankel’s genius storytelling is what truly makes This Is How It Always Is a must read for everyone. I have recommended it to anyone that will listen because it is simply that good. It addresses a polarizing topic in a beautiful way and brings it down to a level everyone can enjoy. I sincerely hope you pick up this book because if you’re anything like me, it will transform the way you perceive changes, which can only be a good thing. This book addresses everyday life and the trials that come with it in the best way I’ve ever seen. Change is something that is hard to appreciate, but as all of the Facebook quotes say, “everything happens for a reason.”

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