Brave, complicated, occasionally horrifying and frequently very funny ... Frankel is a first-rate storyteller; her prose style is witty, thoughtful and warm, hampered only by an overreliance on foreshadowing and portents of doom as transitions. The deep feeling and insight of her writing is surely informed by personal experience. As Frankel observed in The New York Times, she is the mother of a smart, funny, brave second-grader who used to be a little boy, and is now a little girl. The old adage, 'Write what you know,' is compellingly true here.
Frankel portrays a family with a trans daughter with dignity and warmth and generosity. In an age where trans bathroom panic leads some Republican men to 'patrol' their local Targets with guns in order to allegedly keep their daughters safe from nonexistent sexual predators, Frankel patiently and calmly tells a story about a very specific experience ... Kids are cruel, and one scene beautifully delivers the menace of violence without crossing over into something too scary or melodramatic. But Frankel clearly loves her characters, and is rooting for them to succeed. That gives the book a charm that makes it very hard to put down ... This is a book you could easily give as a gift to someone further toward the right of the political spectrum of you; it’s a novel of great empathy and compassion that transcends politics. Always does have a few unfortunate failings. The last third of the book loses its forward momentum a bit, with a long trip to a distant land that feels forced for purposes of plot. And though the book is in large part set in Seattle, Frankel doesn’t really sketch out the locations with any vividness or veracity. But these failures of location are more than matched, and surpassed, by Frankel’s gift for building characters.
The result is a novel that feels more like a fictionalized account, in ways that are both deeply satisfying and sometimes limiting ... This is an intimate family story, and these day-to-day parenting dilemmas are where Frankel shines ... moments startle, and yet the book feels a little too close to home, a little too, well, safe. Frankel places Poppy in a thoroughly empathetic and loving family, the kind that picks up and moves to Seattle the minute they encounter a whiff of homophobia in their town ... The last third of the book is more satisfying for being unpredictable, and dangling the possibility that Poppy is going through something as radical and disruptive, even as dangerous, as it seems.
The story is told in close third person, and since the narrator primarily shadows Rosie, Frankel’s sentences mostly reflect Rosie’s personality. They’re practical, calmly but thoroughly analytical, occasionally gritty, occasionally clever. They mostly tell it to you straight—but in moments of power, they swing into a literary register that lets the language do more of the explaining than the explaining does. This strategy makes for easy reading. I blew through the 323 pages in two days ... it’s not sanitized, and the pages aren’t gilt. It’s the old-fashioned kind of story that shows how cruel people can be to each other, and also how selfless—the kind children can understand but that adults can really feel.
There is so very much to enjoy in this domestic drama: a carefully tooled narrative that is expansive, perceptive, and gracious; dialogue that is both witty and deep; characters who are remarkably self-actualized. The construct is so beguiling it can annoy at times — would that we mere mortals could be so appealing as we haphazarded our way through life’s booby traps! ... In an age of increasingly divergent opinions about practically everything — policing tactics, immigration, public restrooms — how refreshing it is — how nonconforming — to encounter a book about finding a middle way.