Book Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

05.13.16The Kingston ChurchPsalm Drive, Texas

P1030976Book: Am I Normal Yet? (Spinsters #1)

Author: Holly Bourne

Original Release Date: 1st Aug 2015

Genre: YA/Contemporary/Mental Health/Feminism

Rating: 5 out of 5

Blurb: All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

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?

My Overall Thoughts:

I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. I am a confessed fantasy lover and haven’t actually read a contemporary in years, but as this was our July pick for The Book Club (links here) I couldn’t get away from it. I had been having a sudden craving for contemporary YA fiction but just didn’t know where to start so when this was chosen for our July read I wasn’t as upset as I would normally be but I still wasn’t anticipating how much I would love this book.

The main factor that made me love this book was how realistic Evie’s mental illness was written. The amount of people who struggle with mental illness is unfortunately high, and being one of those myself I really related to Evie and her battle with anxiety. It took me aback how much I actually related to her struggle and although it was hard to read at times it is was makes this a 5 star read for me.

I really wasn’t expecting the huge feminist influence in this book either, it really surprised me and although I don’t think girls that age would that well informed, I’m hoping this book will change that. It even brought some things to my attention that I didn’t realise I was doing and has made me far more aware of some things I can do to further help the feminist movement. But I am so glad issues like this are in a YA novel, whether I think it’s realistic or not, because it’s done and explained in such a way that I think young girls will start to see this kind of behaviour in their own lives and not be afraid to speak up about it.

Thoughts on Characters:

Quick disclaimer: I’ve tried not to give away any spoilers for the book, but I think I may have got a bit carried away with my love (or hate) for these characters, so be a little weary reading this section! 

There are a lot of very interesting characters in this book, but I won’t bore you by talking about all of them. I’ll try and keep it to the main 3 spinsters, maybe Guy and a joint section on Joel and Jane but I can’t promise they won’t be long sections because I have a lot of thoughts and feelings!

We have to start with the main character, Evie. I went through stages of loving her, wanting to give her a huge hug and trying to support her through everything and the next chapter I want to shake her and snap her out of it! But that’s what made her a great character; she wasn’t perfect, she had her problems and despite everything going on in her life and what she thinks she is a normal teenager! As fickle as she may have been when it comes to guys that’s what pretty much every 16-17 year old girl I knew was like when I was that age! Did she fancy guys because they paid attention to her? Yes, but so does every other girl that age! Especially when they’re on Evie’s mission to be normal, because you look around you and that’s what you think normal is. Her flicking between boys and being so boy focused did annoy me slightly, but like I’ve already said I can’t dislike her for that because that’s what everyone her age is like and it added to the book. She was written so well and me wanting to grab her by the shoulders and shake her when we wasn’t seeing straight just shows how realistic she is, and despite her feelings of abnormality I think every girl can relate to Evie whether they’re 16 or 36 because although her situation is unique there are parts of it that everyone of us has been through.

Lottie was probably one of my favourite characters in this book, because when I was 16 she was the girl I wanted to be. The popular, funny, gorgeous girl that all the guys wanted to be with, but she isn’t that at all. When I was younger I would have thought Lottie had it all, the perfect life for the perfect girl, but reading this book makes you realise that no one has the perfect life and it really helped me with realising that the ‘perfect girl’ I wanted to be actually doesn’t exist. Lottie had her own troubles with guys and self confidence that she doesn’t let the outside world see. Again it is extremely relatable as millions of girls struggle with their self confidence and loads of girls can relate to boy trouble! I just found Lottie to be a very funny character, a real crutch for Evie without really meaning too. She kept the three of them together even when she was having her own problems, and was the backbone of the story. She might not have been an in your face character but she was supportive from the background, always there for her friends whether she agreed with them or not, and that is definitely the type of person I want to be.

Out of the three main female characters Amber was probably my least favourite. When she was first introduced she was one of my favourites, this girl that stuck out for all the wrong reasons (according to her) yet still felt completely invisible to the opposite sex was something I really related to. But as the story moved forward she seemed to aim her bitterness about her appearance towards her friends and their varying success with guys, which is something that annoyed me more and more throughout the book. Both Lottie and Evie tried to be there for her in the best ways they could and tried to stop talking about guys so much for Amber but she still seemed to be resentful towards them. I can understand why she felt that way, as I have been in similar situations but I feel like taking it out on her friends was the wrong thing to do. She did redeem herself at the end of the book, and apparently her behaviour is explained more in the second book of the trilogy which is from her point of view, so hopefully I’ll be able to connect more with her then.

Guy was one of the best characters in the book, because I just wanted to punch him in the face repeatedly. He behaved exactly as every other 17 year old boy in the whole of the UK does, and his behaviour towards Evie was frustrating as hell, acting hot and cold towards her constantly and not being able to make up his mind. I suppose being nearly 5 years older than the main characters gives me the amazing power of hindsight and I was shouting at Evie for not being stronger with him and demanding to know where she stood. Although I hated Guy from the get go (I’m not a big fan of drugs and how he acted towards Evie even at the beginning of the novel annoyed me), he made me love Evie even more because I could recognise how she was feeling. Boys are crazy, weird, unusual creatures and Guy is a great example of that. I know I’m going to get the typical “not all boys” and I know they aren’t, but I can guarantee that almost every girl has met a guy like Guy in her lifetime and reading about him stead of the perfectly chiselled dream boat was quite refreshing (even if I wanted to give him a good kick).

I really wanted to dislike Jane for leaving Evie all by herself when they got to college, but honestly I just felt sorry for her. I’ve seen so many girls consumed by their first relationship and they’ve let it define them, which is exactly what happened to Jane. I can’t really blame Joel for that (although there did seem to be some manipulation on his part) but it’s not Jane’s fault either. Rosie definitely hit the nail on the head with her words of wisdom about Jane later in the book! She definitely started to realise she was losing her friend later in the novel and that’s when I started to like her more. It takes a certain type of bravery to reach out to people knowing you’ve hurt them and to try and reconnect, so I can’t dislike Jane as much as I know I should. I don’t really have any feelings toward Joel to be honest, he’s obviously a bit manipulative towards Jane but other than that he doesn’t really have a personality so I can’t really make many comments about him.

Thoughts on Plot:

The plot of this book had me hooked, despite there being no real action. The main focus is on Evie’s constant struggle with her mental illness, whether it be concealing it from others or trying to control it. But there’s also some very important subplots that I could relate to a lot more. Evie’s journey throughout the book was beautiful though, and I felt like I grew as a person along with her. Through her trials with boys, friends, alcohol and her mental illness she learns to be more comfortable with herself, something that I think a lot of us have struggled with.

I do have anxiety, although it is a very minor version in comparison to Evie’s OCD and anxiety, so the main plot of the story focusing on Evie’s mental illness definitely touched me in a way I did not expect. I think it’s one of the reasons I really loved this book so much, because I really saw my own struggles in Evie and what she went through with her anxiety and OCD and it helped me with my mental illness because it reassured me that I wasn’t making it up, I wasn’t over reacting and really I was just very shy, what I thought were symptoms really are. Evie’s plot and struggles helped me in more ways than I ever thought it would, so thank you Holly if you ever read this.

One of the subplots that I felt was definitely up there in importance was the female friendship the girls formed and their feminist conversations that go along with it. I find it’s surprisingly rare that you see a realistic female friendship in YA fiction so it was really nice to read about girls that didn’t agree on everything, that had their little arguments but stuck by each other no matter what. They did things for each other that they didn’t necessarily want to do and that is what friendship is all about in my opinion, so it was really heart warming to read that part of the story. These strong, independent, women banding together and using their conjoined strength for a cause that is deeply misunderstood in our society.

This was quite a romance heavy book, which I’m normally not a fan of but it wasn’t just there for romance sake in this book, it actually served a purpose to the plot! Evie fully believes that part of being normal is having a boyfriend, and once she finds love her mental illness and her problems will disappear in a poof of smoke. I think all girls reading this book will know full well that boys cause a lot more problems than they actually get rid of, which is what Evie’s therapist tries to tell her throughout the book, but being the normal teenager that Evie is, she doesn’t listen and pursues romance with her foot firmly on the acceleration. Each boy that Evie is romantically involved with in some way acts as a kind of lesson for her; such as if you’re referring to a boy as some kind of rodent then it’s a bad sign. On a serious note all three boys do tell Evie something about herself that she wouldn’t have known had she not gone of a date with them and I think that’s great. From each failed attempt at romance Evie comes out a different, but not always a better, person and that’s what young girls should be taught. Do you need a boy in your life to be normal or for it to be complete? No. Is it okay to want a boyfriend? Yes! But don’t let it rule your life, and if you do find a guy you’re interested in and it doesn’t work out as you’d hope (which is bound to happen to everyone) then don’t let it destroy your world, learn from it and move forward as best you can.

I really loved reading the plot of this book, and particularly the messages that went along with it. This would have helped me a great deal when I was in my early-mid teens and I think a lot of young girls would really benefit from reading it as well. This is the kind of books we need in the secondary school English curriculum instead of some of the useless ones I was made to read. Not only would this hopefully get more teens into reading but it will also teach them so many important things about themselves and the world around them that I really believe they are kept ignorant about. Although it is getting better and I’m seeing more teenagers getting involved in political conversations, it’s still not enough and I know books like this would really open up those competitions.

Thoughts on Writing:

I was sucked straight into this book from page one, which I completely did not expect. I thought I’d be struggling to get through this as I’ve been away from contemporary for so long but Bourne’s writing is so easy to read. It’s an extremely real and realistic form of writing and I felt like I was reading the diary of a sixteen year old girl.

You are taken straight into the drama of Evie’s attempt at a normal life and you learn more about her mental illness throughout the first few chapters of the book so you aren’t given a huge information bumf in the first few paragraphs about Evie and her past struggles. The excerpts from Evie’s recovery diary also helped with this in the beginning of the novel, and towards the end they show how much Evie is struggling as although she tries to hide it from herself (and therefore the reader) she knows she has to be honest in the diary.

Not only were we given an insight into Evie’s recover diary but we also get to see her “Bad Thoughts”, with the occasional “Good Thought” in there as well. Adding these in really shows the reader how aware Evie was of her illness and how it affects her in her day to day life. It also clues the reader in into how Evie is coping with slowly coming off her medication with the varying frequency of these “Bad Thoughts” appearing in each chapter.   

Another huge theme in this book is feminism, which I am so glad is making it’s way into YA fiction because it’s so important! Holly tells her readers in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s being crammed down your throat, yeah it can be a little preachy at times but as that is mostly coming from Amber I feel it fits her character and doesn’t retract from the message itself. It really was refreshing seeing the true meaning of feminism in a book that is written in a way that young readers can really relate to, and I know it will educate everyone who reads it even in a small way, it definitely did for me.

Recommend This To:

Anyone who wants to learn more about mental illness and feminism. If you know someone with a mental illness and want to understand how they feel or what they go through, read this book. If you feel like you may suffer from a mental illness but aren’t sure if you’re overreacting or don’t feel comfortable going to a doctors, read this book. If you feel like you need to know more about feminism but don’t want to trail through internet articles, read this book. Basically everyone should read this book, it’s so informative in a way that you wouldn’t even know you’re learning until you start to see sexism in the world around you.

Have you read the Spinster trilogy? Have I convinced you to start it? Read any other amazing books that focus on mental illness or feminism? Let me know in the comments! 

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