What Is ‘Normal’?

42-Am-I-Normal-Yet-Front-coverBook: Am I Normal Yet?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne
Published on: 1st August 2015
Other Books by Holly Bourne: Soulmates (2013) and The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting (2014)

Blurb:
All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list… But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

I have just read the fabulousness that is Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. I saw her speak at Sunday’s Mental Health panel at YALC and picked up her book not long after. I devoured it in one sitting and my reaction was fairly excited-flaily:

am i normal yet tweets

I have all the feelings.

Well done, book-excitable me, for expressing your thoughts so coherently (I went back and RT’d a few more eloquent tweets on the subject – see my timeline.)

Now as I said on twitter, I don’t actually think I can review this book in the way I usually do, because – well, it was just so good I can’t actually think of any critique to level at it. I guarantee you that in six months’ time, I will still be pressing this recommendation on everyone I speak to.

Instead, this book got me thinking. Thinking about the term ‘normal’ and why there is such an enormous drive for everyone, especially teenagers, to fit into this category that doesn’t seem to have clear parameters, that seems to change more frequently than the weather. (hello? it’s August. And I’m in my JUMPERS). One of the main problems Evie tackles in this book is her demands on herself to be ‘normal’, whilst having no idea what ‘normal’ even means. Does it mean spending all your time fancying boys? Does it mean going to places and events you don’t really like just because everyone else is? Does it mean going and getting drunk off your face at a house party?

And most importantly: Does it mean doing everything you possibly can to hide the fact that you might be in some way different?

tumblr_njuohhIfew1se8nfmo1_250

All of our feelings on ‘banter’.

This is such a necessary read for teenagers, and in fact all readers of YA. It challenges the assumption that we all have to hide ourselves for fear of being labelled ‘mental’, a ‘freak’ or a ‘psycho’. The odd parts Bourne drops in about the history of psychiatry are really important in informing readers of where these stereotypes come from. She takes comments that are sadly ordinary – part of what she describes as ‘mental illnesses gone mainstream’ – and challenges them, reminding people that you aren’t OCD just because you like to be tidy, that you aren’t necessarily having a panic attack (you’re just nervous) and that being in a bad mood does not make you bipolar. I’m sure we can all think of occasions where we have heard or thought or said something similar and it is so important that we check what we are saying and don’t make such ignorant, demeaning comments. Especially for teenagers, where diagnoses (diagnosis?) and labels are used so freely as insults or, perhaps worse, as the dreaded ‘banter’.

It also brings feminism to the fore (yay, feminism!) and has Evie and her two friends Amber and Lottie form a ‘Spinster Club’, reclaiming terms like spinster that are used as slurs with no male equivalent. It’s the sort of thing I wish I’d read when I was younger, as I didn’t really learn anything about feminism until university. Most importantly, it makes it clear that feminism is all about EQUALITY. Not man-hating. EQUALITY. (A fact that sadly seems lost on vast quantities of the media). With this not necessarily being brought to the attention of teenagers in the classroom – compulsory PSHE and a decent syllabus, please – it’s in books like these where young people can learn about important issues and topics like those that Bourne discusses in this book. And, perhaps just as importantly, they can learn to combine their frustration with the humour that Bourne brings to the fore; one of my favourite parts is where they are laughing hysterically over the ridiculousness of having so many movies that fail the Bechdel Test.

It’s light-hearted, it’s serious, it deals with issues that must be talked about more and more in YA fiction. And that’s why I loved it.

5 Reasons You Must Read This Book:
1) Evie is HILARIOUS. Proof that you aren’t simply defined by your illness.
2) It’s a brilliant, clearly well-researched, portrayal of having a mental illness.
3) A Spinster Club talking about how the world is a hideously unequal place. In normal teenage words!
4) It’s an emotional depiction of friendships, relationships and how they all screw around with any teenage brain.
5) It challenges what it is to be ‘normal’.

Advertisements