This is the poignant story of a loving family: parents, Rosie and Penn, and their 5 boys; that is, they believed they had 5 boys until the youngest, Claude, declared that he wanted to bring a purse to kindergarten instead of a lunchbox. Gradually, it became clearer that Claude was much happier in dresses than pants and identified more with the princess in his father’s bedtime fairytale than the prince. While his parents and brothers were accepting of this, they were fearful that people around him were not, and they went to great lengths to protect Claude, who eventually called herself Poppy. As the story unfolds, we learn that while intentions may be pure, our actions may not be in others’ best interests and over-protection can lead to inadvertent harm.
This is a fictional story, but it has all the markings of a story that is true. Every character is endowed with a dynamic, vulnerable, and big-hearted quirkiness that makes all of them larger than life. We come to love each member of this family almost as our own. The story is enriched with some detail of how Claude/Poppy’s experience affects the other members of the family – as it certainly would – and their own struggles with growing and seeking their own identities. And most genuinely, Poppy’s struggle is not straightforward – she is not sure what her journey will be like or where it will end. This is the true meaning of a non-binary identity. One does not have to be male or female. While this may be hard for many to comprehend, it is even harder for others to squeeze themselves into one or the other, and I believe because of that, we all just have to get over ourselves and accept the vast space in-between.
I loved this novel, both for the message within and for the beauty of the story on its own merit. It is a story of a family dealing with a secret that they learn doesn’t have to be a secret. It is a story of a family learning to cope with difference, which most families have to deal with on some level, as no one is exactly like anyone else anyway. And it is a story about love and family bonds that keep a family tied together no matter what.