“This Is How It Always Is”

By Laurie Frankel

c. 2017, Flatiron Books

$25.99, $26.99 Canada; 329 pages

You must not tell. You cannot breathe a word to anyone who doesn’t already know. That which cannot be spoken must remain buried, put away, frozen, lips sealed, or in the closet. You cannot tell because, as in the new novel “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel, secrets change everything.

In the beginning was Roosevelt, known to his loved ones as Roo. Not long after he was born, Ben entered the family. Then the twins, Orion and Rigel, arrived and so Rosie Walsh, still hoping for a girl baby, did everything the Talmud recommended she do next. Months later, she and her husband, Penn, welcomed … Claude.

And that was okay. Another boy in their raucous, rowdy family of boys was fine and Rosie and Penn loved them all. They were happy in their big, rambling, open farmhouse just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Rosie loved her job. Penn worked on his novel. And Claude dreamed of being a girl.

It started when, as do most parents, Rosie told Claude that he could “be anything” he wanted to be someday. Claude was three years old and loved dress-up; it didn’t seem odd to let him wear dresses at home. But soon, home wasn’t enough and Claude tantrumed until he was allowed to wear dresses to preschool, though he was told that he’d have to use the nurse’s station bathroom and his teacher was “not happy.”

Still, Rosie and Penn were willing to do what it took to make Claude feel secure. With his dresses and pink, he was a confident child; without, he was sullen and sad. None of his classmates minded his clothing. His brothers never gave it a second thought. Claude was simply Claude, until he asked his parents to call him Poppy.

And that was fine, too, especially when the family moved to another state and it was easier to keep quiet – until it wasn’t. Until Poppy started growing up, the world became a vicious place, and secret-keeping couldn’t last forever.

And so, here’s the thing: once you’ve started reading “This Is How It Always Is,” you might as well just clear your schedule. Cancel all appointments. You won’t want to do anything but read, so just give in. Blame it on the book.

Part of the appeal, I think, is in the way that author Laurie Frankel writes: there are no airs, no try-to-impress-you words, nothing uppity. Her characters are normal people with everyday lives, trying to maintain that normalcy and Frankel writes like they might talk: with down-to-earth matter-of-factness and a fast dash of humor that winds its way through a serious topic. And on that topic, you’ve perhaps heard it before (or something similar) but not in a voice like this, and not quite as enjoyable.

One more thing: be sure to read Frankel’s after-notes, which brings her novel full-circle and will make you smile. But don’t peek; instead, start “This Is How It Always Is” from the beginning and savor it properly. It’ll make you want to tell everyone.

“Motor Girls”

By Sue Macy, foreword by Danica Patrick

c. 2017, National Geographic

$18.99, $24.99 Canada; 96 pages

Three wheels were never going to cut it. And two? Well, moving up from tricycle to bicycle was good, but still not enough. No, you’re practically counting the days until you get your driver’s license because you need speed and in the new book “Motor Girls” by Sue Macy, you’ll see that you’re on the right road.

In 1895, Chicago newspaperman Herman Kohlsaat became agitated. He’d heard that American inventors were hard at work on “motor-cars” and he thought it was time to see what those things could do, so he announced that he was holding a race. Eighty-three inventors registered their cars, but just two vehicles actually showed up on Thanksgiving Day that year. The drivers were all men, but they opened up a whole new world to every American.

Would an automobile be the same if it was called a “Kinetic” or an “Autopher?” Those were the first fancy names that were kicked around for the horseless carriage before the word “Automobile” was settled on. No matter what they called it, just 30 companies made them in 1899 but a year later, the U.S. boasted more than twice that many auto manufacturers. Women obviously noticed, though it was thought that they were too delicate to handle an automobile, or that they couldn’t think straight and might become distracted on the road.

But of course, women proved everybody wrong. Not only did they learn how to drive, they learned how to change tires and work on their own cars’ engines in classes held specific for female mechanics. They even enhanced what was coming off the assembly lines: Lillian Sheridan became a top Ford saleswoman with an all-woman sales staff; while Mary Anderson invented the windshield wiper. Women broke records by driving cross-country (the first time of which took 60 days) and they became taxi drivers and ambulance drivers. They used automobiles to further their right to vote, and to help at home and overseas during World War I.

And yes, if you lived a century ago, you could find a woman on the racetrack …

In a few short years, she’ll have her driver’s license. She’s already picking out the car she wants. But first, thrill your future driver with a history she needs to know by giving her “Motor Girls.”

Beginning and ending with a race, this book speaks to the heart of kids who love fast and faster, but racing isn’t all author Sue Macy presents. This book is filled with photos of early cars and their (female) drivers, as well as a wealth of tidbits for young gearheads. Kids will enjoy knowing what it was like to go on a road trip a century ago; how autos helped women’s rights; and what kind of behavior was “ruffianly” on the road.

While this book is perfect for 8-to-12-year-old girls with motors on their minds, boys can learn a thing or three from it, too. If they’ve got speed in their souls and eyes locked on a license, “Motor Girls” will get their engines running.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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