Sometimes in life you pick up a book at just the right time and as you being to read it, you feel as though that book was written specifically for you. This is that book. I finished reading Am I Normal Yet? last night and cannot stop thinking about it.
Without this review becoming self-indulgent, I just want to say that at the moment I am going through a minor relapse of anxiety, depression and panic disorder after coming off of medication a few months ago. So, life is pretty challenging and scary right now.
Which, almost perfectly, mirrors the life of our protagonist Evie. Evie has OCD and is working with her therapist Sarah to slowly reduce her medication with the goal of eventually being able to cope without any form of medicine in her life. However, Evie is only 16, she’s got so much going on in her life, what with starting college, trying to create new friendships, meeting new boys…it’s a whirlwind of emotion, hormones and stress so no wonder she’s finding it hard to adjust to life off the medication. As the plot progresses we see Evie begin to relapse and watch as she sadly spirals back into the grips of the OCD and the negative thoughts, each one dragging her closer to breaking point.
I loved this book. Not only because it became a comfort to me but because it was so real. I felt like Evie was the amalgamation and representation of so many people’s anxieties and fears about mental health treatment. I’ve always been petrified of a relapse and as Evie begins hers, she reacts in the way I think anyone else would, with a sense of denial. She refuses to admit that actually she might need some help because that then means accepting that the OCD is back, that the bad thoughts and the rituals are taking over her life again. If you don’t accept it, then it’s not happening, right?
I just wanted to leap into the pages of the book and give Evie the worlds biggest hug – I completely and utterly felt what she was going through. Even though it’s been a lot of years since I was last at school and vying for male attention, the scenarios and situations Evie finds herself in felt really familiar to me and I could almost picture myself back in the school corridors, knowing the complete and utter torture of having a mental health problem but not being able to share it with anyone.
This book is going to help so many people. When I was a teenager there was very little in the way of YA fiction that addressed mental health in a way that was engaging. But this book does that. It’s not patronising, nor is it confusing – it strikes the balance perfectly. The cast of characters around Evie paint a realistic picture. The stressed and worried parents, the confused sister, the friends you don’t know if you can tell, the boys who only care about getting into your pants…they’re not characters that are perhaps a comfort to someone with a mental health problem but they are REAL. They are going to be recognisable for so many people reading this book. And that’s what I admire most about Holly – she has written a book that doesn’t paint a completely positive picture. It would be so easy to write a novel about mental health that has a protaognist that gets better and lives a happy and fulfilled life but that’s not always the case, relapses happen, people struggle when circumstances change – mental health is for life and, throughout life, we will all always be dancing up and down the scale from good mental health to bad mental health. Whilst the overall message of this book is one of hope and recovery, it does an amazing job in presenting the challenges of living with a life long mental health problem.
Evie’s friends in this book, Amber and Lottie, are two characters who I want to be friends with in real life! So, it made me so over the moon excited to hear that there is going to be a trilogy of books! One to be based on Amber’s life and the third to be based on Lottie’s life. I cannot wait! I hope that we will still see lots of Evie in those books as I really did fall in love with her character. I also hope to hear more about The Spinster Club which the girls set up! It was a really lovely addition to the plot and allowed Bourne to sneak in some great feminist ideas which I’m sure will resonate with a lot of female readers and hopefully educate some who may not yet know what feminism entails and what they can do to support the cause! I think it’s so important to have empowering, strong and likeable female characters in YA fiction because so many young girls feel so inadequate that they need strong characters to look up to. I was amazed by Evie’s strength and I hope many other readers will be inspired by her too.
Overall, this book is one that you cannot miss. It is just stunning and after meeting Holly at YALC and having my copy signed, it has become a very treasured possession on my bookcase. Am I Normal Yet? is such a important novel that I urge everyone to read it, regardless of age or gender. Everyone will be able to take something away from this novel, whether it’s a greater understanding about mental health, a comfort that you’re not alone, or even just the knowledge that if someone looks OK on the outside, it doesn’t always mean they’re OK on the inside.
I urge you to read this book!