Being A Well Adjusted and Confident Teenager Is Not The Norm in Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney

My Review:

Don’t miss Sally Rooney’s newest novel, Normal People.  This engaging page-turner is about two teenagers from Ireland but it is for everyone!  Connell is a smart, popular athlete with a working class single mother, and Marianne is an intelligent, oddball loner who lives in a mansion with her disfunction family, enduring their physical and mental abuse.  They two are intellectually well matched classmates yet socioeconomically incompatible and they steer clear of each other in high school.  Connell’s mom is the cleaning lady for Marianne’s family and when Connell picks his mom up from work the teenagers’ paths cross. Their attraction is powerful, they enjoy conversation, and they secretly spend time together, agreeing to keep it under wraps.

Their relationship is complicated in public. The kids at school would never understand or accept their being a couple, but when they are alone together they are drawn to each other.   “Most people go through their whole lives, Marianne thought, without ever really feeling that close with anyone.” Their feelings grow and the companionship brings them both some sense of normalcy and happiness, until Connell makes a bad decision that hurts her feelings and changes the course of their relationship.  This crucial choice pushes Marianne away, and so begins the rough road of ups and downs these complex Irish teenagers’ experience in this coming of age love story, Normal People.

Marianne struggles with self worth in high school, but in college she appears more confident and popular with many friends.  Connell ends up at the same school but is more reclusive, his security of high school having disappeared.   He truly loves her and tells her he will never let anything bad happen to her.  Their magnetism is mutual and undeniable, and even though they are not a traditional couple, they end up feeling understood and normal when they are alone together.  Unfortunately due to misunderstandings, they have fall outs over and over. They are both on the constant search for self worth and love, and they each have other relationships, but Marianne’s are not always healthy.

“There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.  In school the boys had tried to break her with cruelty and disregard, and in college men had tried to do it with sex and popularity, all with the same aim of subjugating some force in her personality.  It depressed her to think people were so predictable.  Whether she was respected or despised, it didn’t make much difference in the end.  Would every stage of her life continue to reveal itself as the same thing, again and again, the same remorseless contest for dominance?”

Connell and Marianne did not feel normal in their own skin, struggling with intellectual superiority along with insecurities and feelings of unworthiness.  They knew each other best, yet communication was often misinterpreted between them and their reactions based on what they thought was going on impacted the choices they both made along the way.

This coming of age love story deals with social and economic status, depression and dominance…very real and often sad and frustrating.  There were things I hoped Connell and Marianne would have said to each other and I desperately wanted a different ending, but even though they suffered the consequences of poor communication, we are left with the hope that these two young people will ultimately find themselves happy and together.  Sally Rooney’s writing is easy to read, direct and gives a clear picture of the complexities of  a teenage, fluctuating relationship over a four year period.  I loved Normal People and highly recommend it!

Goodreads Summary

Sally Rooney

About the Author:

Sally Rooney was born in 1991 and lives in Dublin, where she graduated from Trinity College. Her work has appeared in Granta, The Dublin Review, The White Review, The Stinging Fly, and the Winter Pages anthology.

Rooney completed her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, whilst still studying for her master’s degree in American literature.  She wrote 100,000 words of the book in three months.

Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, was published in September 2018 and it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize of that year.  On 27 November 2018 it won “Irish Novel of the Year” at the Irish Book Awards. Normal People won the Costa Book Award in January 2019 and has been long listed for the 2019 Dylan Thomas Prize. In March 2019, Normal People was long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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How Family, Faith and Friendship contributed to The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

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My Review:

Sometimes you luck out and find a book that is just what the doctor ordered. There is nothing like a quick escape, when you can lose yourself in a touching, inspirational, easy to read story.  I loved this book so much!

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is about a boy born with ocular albinism to a loving and devoted Catholic mother and hardworking pharmacist father.  Sam Hill has the eyes of a devil; they are red due to his condition, and his unusual look makes it difficult for him to blend in.  His classmates shun him and even the Sister at his Catholic school treats him unkindly. He becomes the target of a bully and chooses not to rat him out due to fear.  Eddie, the only black child in the school and possibly the entire town, and Mao, the daughter of an alcoholic who has a reputation for being promiscuous, both outcasts in their own right, are Sam’s only friends.  Embolden with his mother’s faith and his father’s guidance, Eddie’s kindness and sports expertise, and Mao’s unconditional love and friendship, Sam and his devilish eyes make it through high school.

Sam faces challenges once again when his big goals that include pursuing higher education are put on hold. His love for family supersede his desire to go to college and he stays around to help when his parents need him most.

Sam struggles with relationships and acceptance but has a big heart and an open mind.  His experiences allow him to grow to be a man with confidence, skills and admirable values. We see how his belief system is created and influenced in childhood by his parents, friends, teachers and bullies and challenged by the same in his adult life.  Sam is understanding and compassionate, and he believes in forgiveness.  His love for his family and friends is unwavering and author Robert Dugoni shows us that our differences provide even more opportunities to lead extraordinary lives.

If you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, A Man Called Ove, and The Rosie Project you will like The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell.  I highly recommend this one!

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author: 

Robert Dugoni is the New York Times, #1 Amazon, and #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of the Tracy Crosswhite series: My Sister’s Grave, Her Last Breath, In the Clearing, The Trapped Girl and Close to Home, as well as the short prequels The Academy and Third Watch. The police procedural featuring Seattle Homicide Detective Tracy Crosswhite has kept Dugoni in the Amazon top 10 for more than three years and sold more than 4 million copies. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, released April 2018. Dugoni’s first series featured attorney David Sloane and CIA agent Charles Jenkins.
He is the winner of the Nancy Pearl Award for fiction, a two-time nominee for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction, A two-time nominee for the Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar Award and a two-time nominee for the International Thriller of the year. His non-fiction expose, The Cyanide Canary, was a 2004 Best Book of the Year. He is published in more than 30 countries and two dozen languages.
You can sign up for his newsletter at:
http://www.robertdugoni.com and message him on facebook, twitter and instagram
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His Favorites by Kate Walbert

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(Book available August 14, 2018)

My Review:

With sparse, lyrical language, author of His Favorites, Kate Walbert, shines a light on women’s rights as she tells us about Jo’s tragic and unsettling experiences.  After being in a deadly accident at 15 years old with her best friends, Jo, a wild and now emotionally broken high school student is sent off to boarding school.  Her life at home crumbled, her friendships broken, and the new beginning her life away at school had the potential of being is not going in the right direction.  Memories and stories weave together our understanding of who Jo is…and how an irresponsible female teenager, faced with tragedy and then coerced by a sweet talking man, may not get the support she needed to fight back and stand up for herself.

With Jo’s best friend dead and her parents separated, she blames herself and feels the heavy weight of responsibility.  To start fresh she begins attending a boarding school, but not with a clean slate.  She is consumed with guilt and is having trouble fitting in. She has a labored relationship with her quirky roommate, and unacceptable interactions of the “me too” variety with a charismatic albeit inappropriate male teacher.  Her vulnerability attracts trouble, her cry for help is ignored and her most effective escape from reality consists of drugs, alcohol and trying to keep her mind dark and empty.

Reading this brief 150 page book generated overwhelming feelings of hurt and sorrow, along with anger and outrage.  I found Jo to be lost and desperate, abandoned by her family and friends from home, and abused and damaged by people who were supposed to help.  When she reached out for support she was belittled and rejected.  Like many who suffer abuse and never get the chance to speak out and be heard, Jo carries the burden and the heavy heart.  This is an important book for all to read – life is not always easy but we must all lift each other up, protect one another and stand up for our rights and others.  I highly recommend this one.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.

She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction in 2002; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and New York Times notable book.

She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellowship, a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fiction fellowship, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library.

Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize stories.

From 1990 to 2005, she lectured in fiction writing at Yale University. She currently lives in New York City with her family.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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My Review:

In Little Fires Everywhere, Author Celeste Ng skillfully weaves together two unlikely families as they hide secrets to pursue a good life.  Elena Richardson, born and bred in Shaker Heights,  is a buttoned up, mother of four.  The relationships she has with her husband and children seem typical and normal, yet, as she is continually trying to do the right thing, she struggles with her own expressions and tendencies and unknowingly distances herself from her family.  Free spirited, single mother, artist, Mia Warren and her obedient teenage daughter, Pearl, move to town and quickly become intertwined in the lives of the Richardsons. For Pearl, the Richardsons represent a typical, happy family; a family she would love to be a part of.  For the Richardson kids, Mia is the fun mom, the person to trust, the one who encourages, supports and speaks the truth.

Mia and Elena are conflicted within themselves and each other; one is hiding the secret in her past, yet is living freely and authentically and the other is pursuing the truth, yet is living in a self created cage and holding back.  Their relationship is complex; one would think mothers support other mothers yet not all mothers are created equal, and this is an interesting theme in the book.  Mother daughter relationships is another reoccurring focus as we see how Elena’s daughters are drawn to Mia and how Pearl wants to spend her time at Elena’s house.  When the Richardson’s family friend’s adoption debacle arises, there is a divide in who supports who, and what a mother’s rights are.

Celeste Ng writes a beautiful story using subtle touches to enhance her words.  Along with the incendiary descriptions throughout, she uses the name Mrs. Richardson rather than first name, Elena, allowing the reader to feel distant. I enjoyed the way Mia expresses herself, I felt I could see inside her soul.  Flawed yet beloved, Mia allowed each character to become more fully developed and live more honestly and truthfully.  She was able to see everyone for who they really were and appreciate them at face value without judgement – just like her art, which portrayed what she saw with beauty and honestly, each photograph a composition which represented each subject’s powerful essence.  On the other hand, Elena stood for what she believed what right, yet, to me, she seemed trapped.

In my opinion, at first look, Mia and Pearl were unlucky and the Richardsons had it all, but upon closer examination, the mother and daughter lived more authentically and had a much clearer grip on who they were.  Finally, each character made a decision that impacted everyones else’s lives, culminating in a devastating, fiery end.

Little Fires Everywhere was the bookclub choice this month and it provided fantastic conversation and plenty of disagreement amongst us.  I loved the story and highly recommend it along with Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You.

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Little Fires Everywhere book discussion, holiday party and grab bag!

As Seen in Goodreads:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

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About the Author:

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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As seen in Goodreads:

The #1 New York Times bestseller and modern classic that’s been changing lives for a decade gets a gorgeous revamped cover and special additional content.

You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

My Comments:

The most important message from Thirteen Reasons Why is that how we treat others can effect them in bigger ways than we realize and we should be cognizant of our actions and interactions. At 16 Hannah has committed suicide and has left behind audio cassette tapes for the people who contributed to her unhappiness as one thing lead to another and her depression snowballed. Each person mentioned in the tapes is supposed to listen so they can see how their actions impacted Hannah. Clay listens to the tapes and little by little begins to understand her mindset as different people let her down along the way. The story is a sad one, and each person in her life had an opportunity to “save” her but nobody realized how bad she needed saving until it was too late.

My teenage son read this in a day and suggested I read it. His high school sent an email to all parents bringing to our attention the Netflix series based on the book and warning that the TV version may glamorize suicide and to watch and discuss it with your children.

Bullying, promiscuity, and teenage drama are not new topics but author Jay Asher does a nice job delivering a fast moving, suspenseful novel for adults and teens which sparks important conversation about the serious topics of suicide and depression.

The national phone number and website for help is 1-800 SUICIDE and www.hopeline.com.

 

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Jay Asher was born in Arcadia, California on September 30, 1975. He grew up in a family that encouraged all of his interests, from playing the guitar to his writing. He attended Cuesta College right after graduating from high school. It was here where he wrote his first two children’s books for a class called Children’s Literature Appreciation. At this point in his life, he had decided he wanted to become an elementary school teacher. He then transferred to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where he left his senior year in order to pursue his career as a serious writer. Throughout his life he worked in various establishments, including as a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of his work experiences had an impact on some aspect of his writing.

He has published only one book to date, Thirteen Reasons Why, which was published in October 2007. He is currently working on his second Young Adult novel, and has written several picture books and screenplays. Thirteen Reasons Why has won several awards and has received five stars from Teen Book Review. It also has received high reviews from fellow authors such as Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher, and Gordon Kormon.

YA Novels…For the Young AND Young at Heart

During the past 20 years, Young Adult fiction has been in the spotlight and greatly appreciated by kids and adults alike.  The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling was introduced in 1997, followed by The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins .  A Fault in Our Stars by John Green was published in January 2012 and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews in March 2012.   All made it to the big screen which has generously contributed to book sales and increased fandom.  Due to the success of the Harry Potter fantasy novels, in 2000, The New York Times began a Children’s Bestseller List, indicating that the YA audience was substantial and there were enough worthy novels to support it.  Several years ago the list was modified, separating hardcover middle grade and YA titles from paperback and e-book bestsellers.

I definitely enjoy a good coming of age story; teenage angst, first loves and budding friendships.  Here are three wonderful selections for you no matter how old you are.  Movie discussions have occurred for all three, but as of now, none are in the theaters… so take advantage and read the books first!

 

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell published in 2013.

As stated in Goodreads:

Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.

Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.

Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.

Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

Order from Amazon here…

 

 

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson published in 2014.

As stated in Goodreads:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

Order from Amazon here…

 

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All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven published in 2015.

As stated in Goodreads:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

Order from Amazon here…

If you have any recommendations for current YA novels you think I would enjoy, please feel free to comment!