Friday 29 July 2016

Book Club Picks #1 Am I Normal Yet?

So I was recently invited to join an online book club which I obviously said yes to! We are going to be reading and discussing a new book every month, and this month we have decided to read Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Evie isn't normal. She suffers from OCD and anxiety and is frantically trying to hide her mental illnesses from her college friends, Lottie and Amber. After being bullied in high school for her OCD, Evie is determined to have a fresh start at college and be seen just like the rest of the girls. However being a normal teenager also involves dating, and Evie is determined to get a boyfriend. However she soon finds out that teenage boys can be cruel, and she may need her new friends more than she realises.

As i've been reading a lot of mediocre YA contemporaries lately, I started out being quite wary of this one. It follows Evie, a girl who has just started her first year at college and who is determined to not let anyone know about her OCD. The first thing I noticed was that it was set in the UK which I loved! As a British person myself, I find it extremly rare for YA books in general to be set in the UK, as most contemporaries seem to be set in an American high school, so this was already a nice change from the contemporaries i've been reading. Although this book does include the typical cliché things I was expecting it to, it also surprised me with how much I related to Evie. 

Although I do not have OCD so therefore could not relate to that, I do suffer from anxiety, so I was able to relate to her in some ways, such as not leaving the house for weeks and hating when people use mental illness terms lightly. I loved how it was explained perfectly that mental illness terms are known these days, but people use these terms to explain their feelings, such as saying they had a panic attack over something when they have clearly never suffered a panic attack and don't realise how scary it feels. The first time I had a panic attack I literally thought I was having a heart attack, so I understood Evie's frustration perfectly with people with perfect mental health using terms such as these lightly. I felt as if Holly Bourne explained mental health problems perfectly, and she has clearly done her research unlike many authors who throw mental health around as if it is not a big deal and severely compromises peoples lives. Even without personally suffering from OCD, I still felt myself understanding how anxious not being able to wash her hands made Evie, and although I should have been on the side of her parents who were stopping her from washing to try to help her, it was easy to see how anxious it made Evie, and I just wanted her to be allowed to wash so that she would temporarily feel better.

As someone who has been to therapy myself, I felt as if Evie's therapy sessions were extremly accurate to how real therapy sessions are, as I've had to fill in worksheets similar to Evie's and understand it's not always easy to get your feelings down on a piece of paper. Having a mental illness isn't always logical, so there are times when you have no idea what has triggered you, meaning you can't write it down and discuss it with your therapist. I also loved how it focused on relapses, and how most people will go through at least one relapse, but it isn't the persons fault and they will soon get back onto the road to recovery. When you do have a mental illness for an extended period of time, you start to wonder if it is something you can recover from or if it is permanantly a part of you, and Evie put that across to the reader perfectly.

Evie's relationship with Amber and Lottie play a big part in the story, and I loved that the girls were feminists, and I thought the idea of them forming a spinster club was really clever. I loved how they brought up a different topic at each meeting, and especially loved that they talked in detail about periods. Although a lot of YA books have a female protagonist, it is extremly rare for periods to even be mentioned, even though the majority of young girls have them. It always seems to be a bit of a taboo topic in society even though it's a perfectly natural thing, and I loved that the girls recognised this and how tampons and pads are always marketed to be discreet as if being on your period is a shameful thing. I loved how when Guy told them periods were disgusting and they shouldn't be talking about them during lunch, Amber quickly shut him down. I adored Amber and how she was the one keeping the spinster club together, and although she never has a love interest during the course of the book, she is fine with Lottie and Evie discussing boys, although she does also want to talk about more important topics too. Although I related to Evie's anxiety, Amber was the character who I related to the most, as when I was her age I was also the one girl in my group of friends who didn't have a boyfriend and had to suffer my friends constantly talking about boys. I also loved the plotline of Evie starting to slowly lose Jane to her boyfriend, as this has happened to me on several occasions, and I am no longer friends with any of my female high school friends as they all started to hang out with their boyfriends instead of wanting to spend any time with me.

I of course have to talk about Evie's love interests, as with the exception of Oli they all turned out to be assholes. I hated Guy from the start, and along with Evie's friends couldn't understand what she saw in him. Although it may seen fun and exciting to date the bad boy type, I feel as if it never works out for the best and they usually turn out to be bad characters. I hated the way Guy treated Evie, as he was constantly playing with her emotions and acting like he cared about her one minute while ignoring her the next. I found the scene where he was trying to have sex with her extremly creepy, and I was so happy that she didn't go through with it. Although I didn't hate Ethan quite as much as I hated Guy, he was clearly still an asshole for cheating on her on her first date, and I felt bad for Evie for never being able to find a decent guy.

Speaking of decent guys, I loved Oli and thought he was an extremly sweet character, so I was devasted when Evie treated him cruely for the sake of her appearing to be the normal one. The majority of people who don't have a mental illness don't fully understand those who do, so I felt as if both Evie and Oli could have benefited by being friends and sharing their experiences. Although Evie explains that she can't date Oli as that would be like two alcoholics dating each other, I felt the opposite way and felt that talking about their problems with each other would help, as although their mental illnesses are different, Evie has experience with not leaving the house for weeks.

Although I disliked the way she treated Oli for the sake of feeling as if she was the normal one, I loved that near the end of the novel, Sarah told Evie exactly what we as readers were all thinking. There is no such thing as normal, and what we see as normal doesn't necessarily mean that's how the whole world sees it. No one is perfectly normal, and we all have our little personality quirks that could come across as weird to others. The book shows an extremely important message, that we should just be ourselves, and we shouldn't try to rearrange our whole personality for the sake of others. I also loved that the book ended with her texting Oli, and I hope that by the next book they will at least try to become friends.

This book focuses on important topics such as mental illnesses and feminism, and I loved that along with being a fantastic story, it also educates the reader on these issues. This book has definitely pulled me out of my contemporary slump, and I definitely want to continue reading this series!

We will be discussing Am I Normal Yet in our twitter chat TOMORROW (30/07) at 6pm BST. Be sure to follow us at @TheBookClubs and use the hashtag #BCChat to join in!

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