Rory Pine has the honor of a highly coveted role: the new girl at a new school.
The best thing about Rory was her introverted yet candid personality. “I hate football players. I hate the sport, hate the people that play the sport, the people that watch it... the people who are convinced it's the most important damned thing in the world.” (5) Me, too! She was relatable in many ways.
These days, ever since her parents’ divorce, the only way Rory can seem “normal” is through the magic of her anxiety pills.
Then, on day one at a new school, of course, she runs into him. “[Sam] is a walking trigger for me. Gorgeous. My God is he gorgeous. And gorgeous guys in high school are assholes. Especially jocks. And judging by his physique, that's exactly what he is. He's tall. Built. Six plus feet of lean muscle... athletic. Something I'd have found incredibly attractive a year ago.” (7) How embarrassing it must be to have a panic attack in front of him.
But, for Rory: “I don't need him to make me feel normal. I'm not normal. And I've already accepted that I never will be again.” (11)
Still, both Sam and Rory do share one thing: to not be the target for attention. For Sam, Rory just seems real—not “normal,” just real. There is a special bond between them, but Rory can’t seem to let go of the past, no matter how much she desperately wants to. Besides she’s never been good at dating, never had any experience in it. After all, “how common can finding actual true love in high school really be?” (23) I liked that Sam wanted to be her friend and showed genuine concern for her right from the start. You can tell that he is her savior, the key to free her from her mental cage.
The majority of the story centers on the concept of being “normal,” which, according to Rory, can only be obtained by looking “happy and carefree.” Of course, seeming is not the same as actually being. “But I know better than anyone, just because they seem like some golden couple, doesn't mean it's true.” (23) Rory was convinced that everything was “normal”—the love, the jealousy, the lies, the pain. Imagery and illusion are bound to the archaic concept of “normal,” rendering truth with doubt and false insecurities. Even though broken, Rory was damn lucky to have had a friend like Cam, who wanted to keep her safe. Cam was strong, safe, and sensitive—he was just a wonderful guy!
Scenes from the past and present play side by side throughout the book, unearthing the crumbling remains of Rory’s psyche and revealing the gradual descent of her world. What happened? What was so bad that it completely unnerved and crippled her? And what on earth happened to Cam? Don’t tell me something happened to Cam! But, of course, I had that distinct feeling…
Bound and riveted, readers will want to unveil the dark skeletons as a grappling strength simmers and beckons the heroes to keep on fighting.
Pearl has written a thought-provoking and enjoyable story, albeit repetitious and emotionally daunting at times. Witty and heart-felt, Normal is a journey of self-reflection, a maze to personal fulfillment in the face of adversity, and a staggering road to recovery.
My rating: 4 stars