Whidbey Reads 2020 book pick focuses on gender identity issues

Don’t fret if you’re not ready for Whidbey Reads 2020. All five Sno-Isle Libraries community libraries on Whidbey Island are, and so is featured author Laurie Frankel of Seattle.

Author Laurie Frankel
Author Laurie Frankel used her family’s experience with their transgender child as inspiration for the plot of “This Is How It Always Is.”

“I am honored and delighted to be the featured author for Whidbey Reads 2020,” Frankel said. “Whidbey Reads is such a great program, and Whidbey Island is such a wonderful community. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Is there anything better than a library program with engaged readers on a gorgeous island? There is not. I can’t wait!”

Since 2003, Whidbey Reads has brought Whidbey Island residents together annually to read and talk about a book that often has a thought-provoking concept.

For 2020, the Whidbey Reads Committee picked Frankel’s 2017 novel, “This Is How It Always Is.” It was a Pacific Northwest Book Award finalist and won the Washington State Book Award.

This Is How It Always Is book cover“This Is How It Always Is” is the fictional story of how a mother and father support their youngest child who dreams that he can be a princess and a girl when he grows up.

Frankel has firsthand knowledge with childhood gender identity issues. The book’s plot is inspired by her family’s ongoing experience with their transgender child. She wrote about it in 2016 for the New York Times column “Modern Love.”

“We, as a family, decided to be open and honest about it, too, celebrating her story instead of hiding it,” she wrote.

For the author’s note in “This Is How It Always Is” Frankel wrote: “I wish for my child, for all our children, a world where they can be who they are and become their most loved, blessed, appreciated selves… For my child, for all our children, I want more options, more paths through the woods, wider ranges of normal, and unconditional love. Who doesn’t want that? I know this book will be controversial, but honestly? I keep forgetting why.”

Frankel will read from and speak about “This Is How It Always Is” at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 22 at the Oak Harbor Library; at noon Thursday, April 23 at the Coupeville Library; and at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 23 in the Langley United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 301 Anthes Ave.

Frankel’s other novels include “Goodbye for Now” (2012), winner of the 2013 Endeavour Award, and “The Atlas of Love” (2010), a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Book Award.

Whidbey Reads is a collaborative effort between Sno-Isle Libraries, Whidbey Island Friends of the Library groups, and volunteers from each community on Whidbey Island. Other partners include The Book Rack, Kingfisher Books, Moonraker Books and the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.

The Whidbey Reads Committee currently includes Marie Byars, project lead and Oak Harbor Library Information Assistant; Theresa Pazar of Langley; Sue Norman of Oak Harbor; Steve Dalgleish of Clinton; Gabriel Chrisman, Coupeville Library Associate; Katrina Morse, Mukilteo and south Whidbey Librarian; Susan Hanzelka, Freeland Library Associate; Mary Campbell, Sno-Isle Libraries West District Manager; Karen Achabal, Langley Library Associate; Debby Colfer, Clinton Library Manager, and Libby Sullivan, Skagit Valley College Whidbey Campus librarian.

Sullivan is married to Whidbey Reads 2019 guest author Matthew Sullivan, who wrote “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.” They recently moved to Anacortes.

Even as the Whidbey Reads Committee finalizes event details for 2020, they’re deep into planning for 2021 and beyond.

“The Whidbey Reads committee begins considering titles much sooner than people may think,” Byars said. “For example, we began reading and discussing nearly 20 potential titles for 2020 in November 2018. We’d selected our top four choices and queried authors in March 2019, and by June we’d confirmed that we would host Laurie Frankel in April 2020.”

“We’re already busy reading and talking about potential books and authors for 2021,” she said. “We started the selection process in early November 2019. We’ll whittle down the list of contenders to a few top picks by February and will make the final decision on a title and author in June.”

Committee members can have wildly different opinions on contending titles. With a laugh, Chrisman called it “the book fight.”

“Lively discussions are a staple of the selection process,” Byars said.

Titles and authors are often reconsidered for another year of contention, Byars said.

“Sometimes the timing just isn’t right for an author, or we want to give a worthy book another chance,” she said.

And sometimes, an author is unavailable one year but agrees to come another year.

The Whidbey Reads Committee has a new online survey for readers to offer title suggestions.

“The time is always right for title suggestions,” Byars said.

“We’re looking for a book to engage the whole community and evoke discussion,” said Campbell, the district manager. “And it depends on the author availability and availability of the book in multiple formats.”

A series of events and discussions focuses on themes related to “This Is How It Always Is,” serving as a springboard to explore commonalities and differences. Events will include book discussions, programs on gender identity and diversity, creative writing, cultural values and even Thai cooking.

Whidbey Reads 2020 Events

Wednesday, March 4: No Easy Answers: Insights into Gender Diversity in Childhood. University of Washington Department of Psychology researchers Jennifer Rubin and Stats Atwood will present contemporary research on gender-diverse children and outline avenues for future work. Following the presentation, Rubin and Atwood will engage the audience in a thought-provoking discussion connecting themes from Frankel’s novel to research in psychology and applications to everyday life. 1-2:30 p.m., Clinton Community Hall, 6411 S. Central Ave., Clinton; 6-7:30 p.m., Coupeville Library.

March 5, 9, 18: “Kumu Hina.” Documentary filmmakers explore and detail Hawaiian culture and fluid gender identity. 3-4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5, Oak Harbor Library; 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, Coupeville Library; 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, March 18, Freeland Library.

Tuesday, March 17: The Cookbook Connection: The Amazing Cuisine of Thailand. Learn about the ingredients, techniques and traditions of Thai cuisine. 6:30-8 p.m., Clinton Community Hall.

Friday, March 27: “A Place in the Middle.” Discover how culture can bring people together and encourage acceptance through the story of Ho’onani. View the 25-minute film, then join the guided discussion. 4-5:30 p.m., Oak Harbor Library.

Saturday, March 28: Made by Hand, Colors of the Day Bracelets. Many cultures believe that there are lucky colors associated with each day of the week. Discover your birthday color and create a fun charmed bracelet. All materials provided. Registration required. 10-11:30 a.m., Freeland Library.

Wednesday, April 1: Maybe I’m Born with It, Maybe It’s Privilege. This workshop is for people who don’t always know what to say or do, but are interested in showing up. Learn about social locations and how to use positionality and privilege to act in solidarity with targeted communities. Presenter Bam Mendiola (they/them) will share the mistakes they have made, the lessons they have learned and the internalized oppression they are always unlearning. Mendiola is a national speaker, published writer and diversity consultant. 3-4:30 p.m., Oak Harbor Library.

April 6, 9, 10: “The Most Dangerous Year,” a documentary. In 2016, a group of families embarked on an uncharted journey of fighting for their transgender children’s lives and futures in this present-day civil rights documentary. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, April 6, Coupeville Library; 3:30-5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 9, Oak Harbor Library; 2-3:30 p.m. Friday, April 10, Freeland Library.

Tuesday, April 7: Introduction to Storytelling. Barry McWilliams, president of the Seattle Storytellers Guild, will present a workshop on storytelling and how to craft and adapt personal stories. 2-3:30 p.m., Freeland Library; 6:30-8 p.m., Langley Library.

Wednesday, April 15: Understanding Gender Identity. Clinical social worker Brenda Newell will give an overview of gender identity. Learn about terminology, risk factors and community resources available to the LGBT*QIA+ community, family members and friends. 6-7:30 p.m., Langley United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 301 Anthes Ave.

April 22-23: “This Is How It Always Is” author Laurie Frankel reads from her book and talks about transgender issues. 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, Oak Harbor Library; noon Thursday, April 23 at Coupeville Library; 4 p.m. Thursday, April 23, Langley United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, 301 Anthes Ave.