REVIEW: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

yabp16Aaand we’re back! I love book awards, and the YA Book Prize, now in its second year, has quickly become one of my favourites. I’m going to be reading and reviewing each title on the shortlist, so HOLD TIGHT and get ready for FEELINGS and OPINIONS.

Last week was #TeamBourne week, so this post is overdue, but #1 it was Easter, Bank Holidays are extremely disorienting, #2 I have already reviewed this book once, technically speaking, and #3 excuses excuses excuses.

Am I Normal Yet? tells the story of Evie, sixteen year old college student and sufferer of debilitating mental illness. When we meet her, she is well on the road to recovery: she’s back at school (with people who don’t know her as the girl who went crazy), she’s going to parties, and she’s even meeting boys. All Evie wants is to be normal, but normality is elusive enough without a brain that tries to sabotage you at every turn. At least she has some amazing friends in the form of the Spinster Club. Lottie and Amber have her back when it comes to cheesy snacks and destroying the patriarchy, but will they be able to accept her, OCD and all, when it comes down to it?

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Am I Normal Yet? is a smash hit, and Holly Bourne is a superstar. The success is entirely deserved; as I’ve said before, she writes some of the most important teenage girls I’ve never met. I was delighted to find this book standing up admirably to a reread. Evie’s voice is immediate, and so readable. The unique layout, with flashback scenes accompanied by underlined headings (very filmic, appropriate for movie buff Evie) and intrusive Bad Thoughts literally intruding into the text, is clever without being gimmicky. It all adds up to a very convincing experience, with the reader as trapped by Evie’s thoughts as she is. (Of course, our advantage is that we can put the book down for a while if we need to.) The latter third of the book is increasingly difficult to read, because Evie’s anxiety is so effectively evoked. I worry about her all the time, you guys.

So this is an important book about a serious topic, and we should all be aware of these issues and how they really do ruin lives, but also, Am I Normal Yet? is funny. It’s really very funny. Evie calls a boy a sexy ferret on the very first page. There’s top drunken banter about Pride and Prejudice. The characters are complicated and heartbreaking, but also they’re just plain likeable and tell great jokes. This book made me snort. In public. On the train. Evie is funny, relatable, very ill, and an awesome friend and smart person. Am I Normal Yet? makes it abundantly clear that such multitudes can be contained in a single normal teen.

The multitudes within teenage girls, and society’s desire to crush them, would make a decent topic for a Spinster Club meeting. Not content to charm the world with a nuanced protagonist with OCD, Holly Bourne introduces us to the grassroots feminist group the Spinster Club.

“Screw guys,” she said. “Let’s meet for coffee tomorrow and spend the entire afternoon talking about everything other than boys.”

“Amen,” I replied.

And that’s what we did.

The Spinster Club – Evie, Amber, and Lottie’s fierce reclamation of the word spinster, and devotion to all things feminist and female friendship – is a revolution and a revelation. It’s so much fun to see young women feeling their way into a feminist identity and discussing theory for the first time. (Along with gratuitous breaks for cheesy snacks.) Teenagers really do talk politics and identity – of course they do! – but it has been rarely shown in YA fiction. I hope this trilogy – Am I Normal Yet?, How Hard Can Love Be?, and the upcoming What’s A Girl Gotta Do? – awakens a whole generation of teenage feminists. “What’s wrong with wanting to go to Pizza Express before you let someone sleep with you?” indeed.

Holly Bourne

Am I Normal Yet? is a hilarious, important, and quotable novel about friendship, anxiety, loser boys, and feminism. I’m so glad it’s on the YA Book Prize shortlist, and I’m proud to own the tshirt of the book. Long live the Spinster Club!

BONUS CONTENT: I read it, I loved it, what next?

Try The Manifesto on How to be Interesting, also by Holly Bourne, for a similarly authentic and visceral take on the teenage experience. For more feminism, you can’t go wrong with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, about a teenage girl tearing down the patriarchy through high school pranks. Anything by the late, great Louise Rennison would be a suitable complement to Holly Bourne’s hilarious teenage girls; why not start at the beginning with Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging?

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