Book review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
Three novels in and she is proving that the she has a hotline to the teenage female psyche. Boyfriends, bullying, angst, insecurity, fraught friendships, hopes and fears… it seems there is no adolescent emotion that Bourne has not examined under her literary microscope.
A journalist for a charity-run website, TheSite.org, during the day, Bourne writes advice articles for 16-25 year-olds, leaving time at the end of the day to blend her ‘half-journalist, half-agony aunt’ skills into writing blistering YA novels.
But knowledge, research and experience is one thing, empathy is another. And Bourne has it in spades. Soulmates, Bourne’s much-acclaimed debut, was an electrifying paranormal romance and her second impressively wise novel, The Manifesto On How To Be Interesting, focused on an introverted teen’s journey of self-discovery.
Am I Normal Yet? takes us into the now familiar territory of troubled teens – this time a 16-year-old girl struggling to control her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – but there’s more to this compelling story than just the impact of mental health issues on relationships.
It is the first of a trilogy which will explore feminist theory through the medium of the novel, a powerfully persuasive and yet entertaining introduction for a new generation to ideas of gender, equality and shared opportunity.
After years of medication, therapy and treatment for her serious OCD condition, all Evie wants is to be normal. Her life has been a continuous sequence of battling ‘bad thoughts’ with ‘good thoughts’ and trying desperately to avoid the really scary ‘urgent thoughts.’
So it’s a relief that she has left behind the taunts of school bullies, is almost off her meds and has started studying at a new college where no one knows her as ‘that girl who went nuts.’ Evie knows better than anyone that she’s actually quite smart ‘when I’m not being sectioned.’
There is just one thing left to tick off her list... that so-far elusive boyfriend. But, as her therapist Sarah keeps warning, relationships can mess with anyone’s head and Evie is fully aware that her brain is never a ‘normal mess.’
Then along comes Ethan, her sociology classmate. He has a big grin, plays the drums, thinks he might be a Marxist and, best of all, finds Evie funny.
But the course of true love never did run smooth and Evie still has a hard road ahead. It is only when she stops trying to hide from the truth and finds solidarity and strength in the warmth of a new friendship with fellow Spinster Club members Amber and Lottie that Evie can finally look forward to the future.
Using humour, high emotion, compassion, sensitivity and some hard-hitting drama, Bourne creates a beautiful, resonant story that tackles serious issues with the lightest and sometimes darkest of touches, giving real and moving insights into what it means to be young, confused and isolated.
Am I Normal Yet? provides an eye-opening challenge to our perceptions of mental illness whilst promoting the potency of femininity through the creation of a sisterhood of friendship which finally empowers and emboldens Evie.
And it’s pleasing to report that the irresistible Spinster Club is set to go from strength to strength with Amber and Lottie’s stories taking centre stage in the next two books.
Bring it on, girls…
(Usborne, paperback, £7.99)