But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love? From Goodreads.
On hearing about Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne, I was really intrigued. A YA novel covering mental illness and feminism, and a book highly recommended by YA author Louise O'Neill - I had to read it. However, I was a little nervous as I didn't fall completely in love with Bourne's first novel, Soulmates. I picked it up with slight trepidation, but within pages, I was hooked. This book is incredible!
Evie has just started college, and is thinking of it as a new start. She has OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but her medication's being reduced, and hardly anyone at college knows about her past. Now is Evie's time to be normal, which becomes easier when she makes friends with Lottie and Amber. Together, the girls laugh and have fun, but also get talking about sexism and feminist issues. They form the Spinster Club, and hold meetings, discussing how to fight the patriarchy. Evie is finally feeling like her life is on track, and decides all she needs now is a boyfriend. Evie is determined to be normal, and refuses to tell anyone about her mental illness, but boys come with their own complications and worries, the kind that might not be so helpful to someone in recovery.
Oh, how I loved this book! I don't know what I loved most; how realistically Evie's mental illness was depicted, or how wonderfully feminist this book is! Both aspects of this novel are just so incredibly well done, I have been marking pages and pages to quote for this review, I have too many to use them all!
There are several members of my family who have depression, and the stigma around depression is so awful, that mental health is a topic really close to my heart. Bourne tackles Evie's OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder brilliantly. I have no real personal experience with either, but with all the research Bourne has obviously done to give us such a detailed look at Evie's experiences with these mental illnesses, I feel confident that this is a realistic portrayal (though not the only way these mental illnesses can manifest, as Bourne points out in the interview included at the end).
Not only does it feel so real, but Bourne writes it in this incredible way that I was completely drawn in to what Evie was experiencing. When Evie was anxious, I felt anxious with her. When she needed to wash her hands, I was internally screaming, "For god's sake, let her wash her bloody hands!", even though I knew how bad for her it would be. When I found out my Nan was terminal, my health was affected by the news in various ways, including panic attacks, one major, maybe four minor. Sitting on a bus, suddenly overwhelmingly hot, finding it difficulty to breath, thinking there were far too many people around me (the bus wasn't busy), and feeling this intense fear for no reason I could understand - it was horrific. I just needed to get off that bus, now. It was a choking and all encompassing fear, and oh my god, I couldn't breath, which scared me further. Once off, I needed to get home. Once home, I needed my mum, because oh my god, something's wrong with me, and I don't know what, please, please help me! Sobbing uncontrollably, struggling to breath, and so scared. Those feelings all came back to me while reading this book, and I know, back then, if there was something I could have done to have stopped how I was feeling, I would have done it. So I can understand Evie's need to wash her hands, or do whatever else she needed to do, while under the influence of her escalating bad thoughts, totally illogical but scary thoughts she couldn't ignore. And I was right there with her. Even though it was heartbreaking to read, I was right there with her.
There's this wonderful part earlier on in the book when Evie discusses how wrong people can be when it comes to mental health. She starts off discussing how great it is that things have progressed to the point where people are able to get the help they need now, and there's less of a stigma than there once was. But then she goes on to say how she thinks progress has gone too far:
'I can say, with some confidence, that it's gone too far the other way. Because now mental health disorders have gone "mainstream". And for all the good it's brought people like me who have been given therapy and stuff, there's a lot of bad it's brought, too.Oh, how I was aggressively nodding along and agreeing in my head as I read this! It's a long quote, I know, and I'm sorry, but it's so incredibly important! And I'm so over the moon that Bourne, through Evie, has said it. Listen up, people! Be educated!
Because now people use the phrase OCD to describe minor personality quirks. "Oooh, I like my pens in a line, I'm so OCD."
NO YOU'RE FUCKING NOT.
These words - words like OCD and bipolar - are not words to use lightly. And yet now they're everywhere. There are TV programmes that actually pun on them. People smile and use them, proud of themselves for learning them, like they should get a sticker of something. Not realizing that is those words are said to you by a medical health professional, as as diagnosis of something you'll probably have for ever, they're words you don't appreciate being misused every single day by someone who likes to keep their house quite clean.
People actually die of bipolar, you know? They jump in front of trains and tip bottles of paracetamol and leave letters behind to their devastated families because their bullying brains just won't leave them be for five minutes and they can't bear to live with that anymore.
People also die of cancer.
You don't hear people going around saying: "Oh my God, my headache is so, like, tumoury today."
Yet it's apparently okay to make light of the language of people's internal hell. And it makes me hate people because I really don't think they get it.' (p91-92)
Lottie and Amber! I loved these two girls so much! Such opinions and ideas on gender inequality and sexism! They both educate Evie with feminist ideas - some I'd heard of, some I hadn't - throughout the book, and it's so incredibly wonderful.
'I always felt I learned something when I was with them. They had such strong opinions, such high opinions about being a girl and how it's amazing, it was hard not to get swept up in it. Especially with Einstein Lottie teaching me all these knew thoughts and words. I did feel a bit glowy about girlfolk. I mean, we are really cool, aren't we? And the world is, like, totally against you if you have a fanny, isn't it?' (p189)I love the Spinsters Club, and I so want my own! What I love is how Bourne breaks down these ideas so they are so accessible! I reviewed Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O'Toole earlier in the year, and I did have some trouble understanding certain parts, and would have to read them over a few times to fully get it. With Am I Normal Yet? there is no way anyone would be confused! Readers will learn about the Bechdel test, learn about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and benevolent sexism, all in relation to the character's lives. It's brilliant! And I am so excited by the idea that teenage girls will be reading this book, and will find out about these ideas and think, and oh my god, maybe even change the way they think and do things? Can you imagine?! There are a few feminist YA stories out at the moment, but this is the first I've read that actually talks about feminism and discusses how to be a feminist, and I think it really could be a game changer! And I am so happy! I am so, so happy and excited!
I could go on, but I think I've maybe raved about this book long enough. Am I Normal Yet? really is such an incredible, and hugely important book! I will be recommending this book to pretty much everyone! And what is even better, this is only the first book in a trilogy of feminist stories! There will be more! And I can't wait to have Bourne help continue my feminist education. Read this book!
Thank you to Usborne for the review copy.
Published: 1st August 2015
Holly Bourne's Website