I wanted to receive this book for my birthday but when you really want to read a book, 3 weeks is an utterly unthinkable length of time to wait. Instead, I bought this as soon as it came out and my goodness I’m glad that I did.
Am I Normal Yet? is a feminist novel telling the story of Evie, a 16 year old who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety. Told from a first-person narrative, the reader experiences Evie’s highs and lows, and watches her fall back into the hands of her illness. Despite the presence of serious themes, this book is certainly not a dark read nor does it ever feel like an ‘issues book’. In fact, Holly perfectly captures what it feels like to suffer from a mental illness by showing the happier times as well as the difficult ones.
Something that I think is really special about Am I Normal Yet? is that Holly not just mentions important issues, but deals with them in an accessible and gentle manner. It is so important that YA introduces teenagers to mental health problems because for so many people, books are their only experience of these issues and so it is right that they are portrayed correctly. Also, due to the isolating nature of a mental illness, fiction is often the place that many teenagers suffering like Evie turn to first and I think that such a vital part of this novel is the portrayal of Evie’s therapist.
Holly ‘did a lot of research, interviewing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists and teenagers with OCD to ensure everything was as accurate as possible‘ and as someone who has received CBT, I can vouch for how realistically this was portrayed. I think that writing about therapy in an honest manner is something that Holly should absolutely be praised for as mainstream media often shows us a dark and frightening picture of therapy which can be unhelpful if you’re a teenager in need of help. I’m so happy that a recognisable image of therapy has been portrayed in this book.
There are a few places in Am I Normal Yet? that some readers might find difficult to read, particularly if they are suffering from bad anxiety at the time. I myself have suffered from extreme anxiety and panic attacks in the past but I’m able to talk and read about it without it triggering those feelings again. However if I was having a bad anxiety day, the accurate portrayal of panic might make me uncomfortable. It’s unsurprising then that Holly found this a tough book to write saying, ‘I found the book really hard to write. OCD and anxiety is such a sensitive topic, and I wanted to do it justice. And I found some scenes with Evie extremely hard, I just wanted to reach into my computer and hug her!‘
Despite it being hard to read in parts, this is by no means the tone of the whole book and I certainly wouldn’t put off reading this all together. It’s impressive that so many important issues are dealt with in this book without the plot ever feeling bogged down with serious problems. In amongst Evie’s story of her mental health illnesses, Holly covers friendships, abusive relationships, and self-perception in just as much detail, providing the reader an education on what’s an okay problem to have (anxiety) and what isn’t (unpleasant boyfriend). So much of Am I Normal Yet? is about empowerment and I so wish this book was around when I was 15.
An equally important part of this book is feminism (yay!). Evie and her best friends Lottie and Amber start a Spinster Club in honour of the fact that they are single and don’t want their lives to revolve around men. It’s such a simple addition to the story but for many teenagers this book will be their first real taste of a feminism that they can relate to and Holly writes these scenes so well that you can’t help but want to start a Spinster Club of your own. During these meetings the girls discuss different aspects of female life such as periods and the tampon tax, and resolve to make a change in whatever way they can (no talking about boys, telling their MP how nasty periods can be…).
I’ve mentioned above how important it is for teenagers to hear about mental health problems and I feel the same way about feminism. I truly believed that feminism was an anti-male movement until I was 17, at which point I discovered Caitlin Moran and realised that I too was a feminist! Holly makes feminism accessible to younger teens which I think is such a powerful tool for her have used.
I really do think that this book is incredible and it is absolutely on the list of my favourite books this year. I hope that I haven’t put anyone off reading this by talking loads about how mental health problems are portrayed in this book because it’s so much more than just a story about a girl relapsing. It’s so brilliant, is such a lovely book to read, and is truly worthy of so much praise. I hope that like me you will adore Evie and really feel for her journey. Her voice is honest and utterly loveable, and I really can’t wait for the next two books to be published (oh yeah, there’s more to come!!!).
Thank you so much to Holly Bourne for answering my questions, and thank you also for writing a book that I could truly relate to.