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Book Review: This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

I have a bad habit when it comes to choosing what to read next. There are so many books I’d like to read that I don’t want to end up reading something I’ll dislike and quit. It feels like wasted time to quit halfway through a book, but finishing a book I’m not enjoying seems to me an even bigger waste. I really hate wasting time. So to make sure I’ll like a book, I research it to death.

Before I dive into a new book it’s likely that it’s been recommended to me by several sources - a friend, a bookish podcast, a blog post by Anne Bogel, an article floating around twitter or pinterest. Then I’ll read the description and reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. Then maybe I’ll be ready to dive in.

It’s part of my questioner personality to enjoy research, but I’m sure you can see the downside of researching books so thoroughly before reading them. It leaves lots of room for spoilers, and very little room for genuine surprise. For someone who enjoys being curious, this seems backwards. I’m stripping the curiosity out of reading. I’m getting better at this, but I really have to fight the impulse to rush to Google every time I hear a title I think I might like.

Lucky for me, I fought the impulse to research “This Is How It Always Is” by Laurie Frankel. I first heard about this book on What Should I Read Next when Anne said it was a book about a family who has a secret. She instructed her guest to start with as little information about the story as possible and just enjoy. I remember thinking to myself, “Geez, I wish I could do that.” The book sounded interesting, but I wanted more information before picking it up, even though I knew I shouldn’t.

When the title was included in several summer reading guides, I took the plunge and bought a copy. It was a perfect way to fight my research impulse and give a new title a try. Everyone was raving about this book, and I wanted in on the story.


Plus, the cover is beautiful. That never hurts.

I’m so glad I picked this up knowing as little as possible. This book is, as they said, about a family with a secret. The secret sometimes seems huge and sometimes seems small. It affects everyone in the family in different ways at different times. It’s normal, and also life changing. Sometimes stories about secrets can be too dramatic for my taste. This wasn’t one of those stories.

The Walsh-Adams family seems so real to me, which is why I loved this book so much. The parents loved one another and loved their children, and had to make big decisions about what’s best for their family. I’m not a parent, and as a child it can be easy to see your parents as brilliant people who never question their decisions. I know this isn’t true, but I think I realized surprisingly late in life that my parents were sometimes just making it up as they went along. The parents in this story often questioned themselves, but they made the best choices they could with the information they had.

The five children are great characters, too. Frankel does a really good job of showing how they all grow up. From rowdy little boys to curious teens, this story covers a lot of ground very gracefully. These siblings could be any family. They got along well enough, but they had their differences and sometimes fought with and for each other.

My favorite character was one of the oldest boys, Ben, who worries a lot about his youngest sibling. I felt several times while reading this book that, although I haven’t lived the experience he was going through, I had felt the same emotions of frustration, concern, and protectiveness that Ben had. This book left me with a smile on my face, thinking how much I appreciate my parents and brother and sister.

I’m glad I didn’t research this, because if I had I would have been a little hesitant to dive in. There were times I set this book aside because I was afraid that one character would be bullied. Reading about kids being bullied is like a punch in the gut, and I didn’t want to be left in tears with a hopeless, icky feeling. This book was certainly not all smiles and happy dancing, but as I said earlier, at the end I was smiling, not sad. It wasn’t always easy to read because some things just weren’t fair, but it was real.

Actually, there’s a line in the story that sums it up:

Easy is nice, but it’s not as good as getting to be who you are or stand up for what you believe in… Easy is nice, but I wonder how often it leads to fulfilling work or partnership or being.
— Laurie Frankel, This Is How It Always Is

This book is important. I know that sounds kind of stuffy, and can be a turnoff for some. But I don’t know how else to describe it. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Questions: Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you ever read a book knowing nothing about it? Do you ever pick out books to read just because you love the cover?

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