Photo provided by Kurt Batdorf
                                Laurie Frankel is an award-winning author whose book was chosen for this year’s Whidbey Reads.

Photo provided by Kurt Batdorf Laurie Frankel is an award-winning author whose book was chosen for this year’s Whidbey Reads.

Whidbey Reads 2020 book focuses on gender identity

  • Tuesday, January 14, 2020 2:17pm
  • Life

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.

“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” 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; 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; 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.