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“Am I Normal Yet?” by Holly Bourne

 

 

This is one of those books which readers will undoubtedly judge by its cover; the question, “Am I normal yet?” is followed by a flow diagram answering yes or no. Underneath is a one-liner: It’s tough being a girl. The first mistake would be to judge this book by its cover because it is actually a very good read.

It is so good in fact that it has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2016. Young Adult (YA) novels are aimed at older teenagers and this grapples with sex, serious mental health issues, feminism and peer group pressure.

Evie is a sixteen year old student embarking on her first year at sixth form college with all the usual teenage hang-ups of hormones, boys and deadlines. Evie has a secret though. She suffers from severe OCD, and not just lining-her-pens-up-in-a-row. She has been sectioned, medicated to within an inch of her life and dragged through clinical therapy.

Despite her daily obsessive ruminations and incessant hand-washing, she just wants a boyfriend, like any other sixteen year old girl.

We follow Evie’s daily battle with her OCD; she is determined to come off her medication and lead, “a normal life,” but what happens next is terrifying for Evie, her family, friends and the reader.
What this book is not is a light, fluffy look at mental health. Holly Bourne takes you right inside Evie’s head; unattractive though that sounds, it is fascinating as you see how her anxiety permeates through every aspect of her life. Bourne skilfully writes Evie as a multidimensional character; so instead of literally writing her off with OCD- we get to know Evie; realising she is just a girl, who happens to have OCD.

Alongside the raging hormones, angst and general craziness around fancying and dating; Evie is also trying to pass her course and make friends. Enter Lottie and Amber.

The three instantly become friends and form, “The Spinster Club,”- a cool gang where they discuss feminism. Yes, F-E-M-I-N-I-S-M. They even have badges. This is an interesting thread to the novel, where feminist theories run seamlessly alongside parties, underage drinking and rows with the parents. The girls adapt, “The Bechdel Test,”- instead of race relations, they look at gender issues in films. A film only passes the test if the female characters have at least one scene where they DO NOT discuss men. The girls discuss film theory with a sophistication beyond their years; whilst simultaneously fantasising about their own love lives…

“We were supposed to be talking about feminism but we ended up just whinging about boys not calling us.”

This is a clever, “coming-of-age,” novel, where the main characters are smart, sassy teenage girls who want it all- boyfriends, good grades, equal rights for women and most importantly, good mental health.

Written by Liz Dickinson

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