Reader Review: Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

Am I Normal Yet?: ★★★★★

 The title of this book is the main thing that first caught my attention due to the fact that it’s such a common and yet misinterpreted phase. My mind instantly went to the thought of ‘there’s no normal’, and I was quick to judge the book before actually getting more information about its plot and premise. However, after looking into the rough narrative of the book, I felt that it was one that deserved a shot, even if the title slightly made me hesitant in reading it. Once again, my hesitation could’ve prevented me from experiencing this incredible read.

Evie wants to be ‘normal’. She wants to go to college, hang out at parties with her friends, meet boys, and do all the things that she didn’t have the chance to do when she was sectioned after being diagnosed with severe OCD. Only, Evie doesn’t want to be known as the ‘girl who went crazy – she’s almost off her medication and is managing her illness a lot better, so she keeps that part of her life private. Only, life gets messy when relationships get involved, and she finds herself spiralling down a path that she’s too afraid to speak up about.

Quite a few of my book reviews are set out chronologically – I review the book as it progresses and look into the different elements of it, such as the characters or the story’s pace. However, with this novel, I really think that it’s more of a book that’s meant to be reviewed when you look back at the reading experience overall. It’s better to review the book from a vast perspective, rather than picking it apart, and so that’s how this review is going to be structured.

First off, the tone and the narration that is created by the monologue of the main character is definitely relatable, especially for teenage girls. It details the worries that go through our minds and the issues that we face within our personal lives and our social lives. As somebody who has only recently left college in the UK, I felt that there were many elements of the book that I could relate to. In fact, there were a lot of similarities that were rather eerily the same in regards to my own life (the name of the friends, the therapist’s name, the character’s struggles, the courses she took at college, etc.) Because I was able to pick up on a relatable tone and took an interest in the story of the main character from the very beginning of the book, this prompted me to divulge myself into the story further, and I was able to finish the book in less than half a day. The ‘teenage’ tone is evident from the very start, though I don’t think it comes across as all that cliched and stereotypical, which is refreshing and enjoyable and it doesn’t lose the interest of the reader.

Without going into too much detail, I want to disclaim that I am mentally ill. I don’t have OCD, so I don’t relate to the character completely on that basis (unless you factor in OCPD), but I have a variety of mental illnesses that factor into my everyday life. Therefore, I loved the frank approach that the novel takes in looking at the stigma that’s been created around mental illness and how so many neurotypicals think it’s something that’s overplayed and is something that we can control. Not only does the book do an excellent job of representing the issues of the mental illness stigma, but it makes sure to include a variety of different mental disorders as well – it’s not just looking at one specific issue, but it’s generally looking at the way that society reacts to mental illnesses in general. The book does an excellent job of bringing attention to matters that are so evident throughout our current society and yet are so often overlooked by people who like to brush them off. For example, the book explores the issue of people using mental illnesses as adjectives to describe the weather or something of the like, which I definitely have experienced first hand. In this sense, it calls out people that do make light of mental illnesses by turning them into the punchline of a joke or making them into a pun, and that’s what we need! We need people to realise that mental illnesses are serious, and they’re not just a term for you to use and brush off as if it’s nothing. Whether the reader suffers from a mental illness or not, this is something that can be picked up by the entire audience and it needs to be paid attention to.

As somebody with mental illnesses, I found myself connecting to the character, her feelings, and her experiences on such a personal basis that it somewhat unnerved me at points. My feelings and my thoughts were validated by seeing them mirrored in a character that’s going through some of the same things, and, to me, that is so important. It was so reassuring to explore the different elements of the character’s story and her issues as this allowed me to feel less alone in my own feelings. The book approaches the fact that people simply do not understand mental illnesses and they make light of them thinking that we’re either being overdramatic and that we’re in control when we’re really not. Likewise, I think it’s hugely important that the novel brings attention to the fact that people like to think that ‘recovery’ or ‘managing your illness better’ is linear and there aren’t any setbacks. That’s just not the case. As the saying goes; relapses happen, and people need to stop thinking that when somebody with a mental illness goes through a period of ‘managing’ their illness better, this doesn’t mean they’re magically going to be ‘fine’ forever more and won’t experience any relapses or darker periods. Personally, this is something that I constantly need to keep reminding myself as well, as I always think that people think I’m going to be ‘cured’ once I start seeing a therapist or learn a specific method of ‘managing’ one of my illnesses better. I’m constantly living in fear that people are expecting me to ‘get over it’ and that it’s ‘just a phase that I’ll move on from’, so seeing this addressed so frankly in this book did a great deal to remind me of these important points. I also think it’s great that readers without mental illnesses will get a better insight into how mentally ill people feel and this further highlights the fact that the process is not a linear one, and neurotypicals need to stop expecting it to be.

Leading on from this further, I think the book does a wonderful job of giving the audience a better insight into how it really is to live with a mental illness. Even if you don’t have OCD or you aren’t mentally ill, this is a novel that still highlights a lot of issues that all mentally ill people face and these are issues that our society needs to stop sweeping under the rug. The book is excellent at connecting to readers in similar situations and working as a reassurance when it’s relatable for the reader, but it also does well to educate those who may not know much about the subject at hand. Certain readers may not know that they’re adding to the stigma and they may not realise that the use of certain terms and certain attitudes are negatively impacting society’s view on mental health, and so I think this book is important from an educational stand-point too.

The book is an easy read, and the tone and style that’s created through the narration are so quick to captivate and immerse you in the story of the character. You’ll find yourself thrown into her life, whether you relate to her directly or not, and so that makes it an incredibly compelling and interesting read. Once again, even if the reader doesn’t know much about the subject or doesn’t relate to the issues that the character is going through, it still works to broaden their knowledge regarding the subject.

I also loved how the book approached and included the subject of feminism, as I’m a huge feminist myself. Not only does it explore the mental health stigma, but it also looks into the obvious sexism that exists throughout our world and how inequality negatively impacts us through our everyday lives. The book brings attention to elements of inequality that a lot of people also like to brush over and pretend don’t exist, and I think it wonderfully showcases just how damaging that can be. It makes the readers consider the state of inequality on a deeper level and consider how it plays into different elements, such as mental health. Therefore, I believe that the novel is incredibly empowering for sufferers of mental health, but it’s notably an important read for young girls and women with mental illnesses as it showcases empowerment and how strong we can be when we support each other.

The book also does a good job of showcasing the strength of friendship and female unity, which is always a nice thing to see portrayed through any book. In a sense, the character’s fears of being judged and abandoned by her friends if they find out about her ‘mental health issues’ are incredibly relatable. Even if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, you’re still going to be able to relate to the book because it does such a good job of showcasing how it feels to be a young person – especially a young person that’s facing the issues we see within our current society.

To put it simply; this book is a masterpiece at exploring and bringing attention to the stigma that’s been created around mental health. As a sufferer myself, this novel is one that reassured me and connected with me on a deeper, personal level, though it’s also a great read for those who are looking to educate themselves further on the topic. It’s emotive, captivating, and ever-so-interesting as it does a wonderful job of providing an accurate insight of how it is living with any mental illness, and it also is wonderfully inclusive of feminism. I adored this read, and I would recommend it to anybody, whether or not you can relate to the character on a personal basis. There are important messages that are showcased that need to be paid attention to, and they need to be taken seriously. One of the best young adult contemporary novels that I’ve read lately, and one that I’ll likely return to in the future. 

Thanks for reading this short review and I’ll write you later. 

If you’re somebody who suffers from a mental illness and feels alone and misunderstood in your own feelings, then I definitely think that this book is worth a read, as it completely worked to reassure me and remind me of important things I often forget.

If you’re looking to expand your knowledge regarding mental health, or you’re an avid feminist that enjoys books looking at empowering women and highlighting issues within society that are often brushed over, you should definitely give this book a read.

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