Before I read Am I Normal Yet?, I had never encountered a book for young adults with so much individuality and personality while accurately encompassing the dilemmas of a typical teenager.
Holly Bourne’s book is about a teenage girl called Evie getting to grips with becoming a woman and juggling all the usual social pressures as well as crippling General Anxiety Disorder and OCD.
It is written colloquially. The voice of the narrator is, for the most part, very convincing. On the few occasions where Evie’s voice felt a little forced, that easily could have been because I’m not a teenager any more.
There is a sense of comfort in it from the very beginning.
It seems to be written with hindsight – at one point in her narration, Evie accidentally slips and gives away the end of a potential romantic subplot before it has properly begun. This is warming. No matter what happens to Evie, it’s nice to have it in the back of your mind that she gets out alive at the other end to write her story.
It’s reassuring to feel like, even at her darkest points, she – and you – are going to be okay.
You follow Evie’s story closely. You go for coffee with her and her friends. You feel the sting as her best friend pays more attention to her boyfriend than to Evie. You swoon at the boys who make Evie feel special and your heart sinks when they mistreat her.
Throughout, Bourne injects Evie’s paranoia and anxiety and medication into normal life in such a seamless way that you can’t help but understand at least a little better what people with anxiety and OCD experience after reading this book.
Equally, it must be a huge comfort to anyone struggling with both puberty and mental illness.
Puberty is a difficult time anyway, but to be compounded with anxiety and OCD – or any other mental affliction – must make it truly unbearable. More books like this definitely need to get into circulation, to make those young people feel understood in a way many teenagers never do.
Reading about how Evie copes has to be helpful for anyone struggling – both with mental illness and with more universal problems.
She has a select few loved ones she is comfortable talking to. She indulges her hobbies. She keeps a Recovery Diary to track her progress.
These simple tips could be infinitely useful for a young person battling their own demons alone.
Evie also has a therapist who she trusts and who helps her. While their relationship isn’t perfect, it is key to her managing her mental illness. It shows how professionals genuinely want to help and, most importantly, it takes a lot of the stigma away from seeking professional help by showing the positive difference it can make and by presenting it in a positive light.
What makes the book so gripping is how Evie is brutally, beautifully honest, not just through the narration but in her dialogue with those around her.
You utterly understand the little lies she tells to shield herself from the scorn of her peers. You feel the same fear of discovery and the same desperation to preserve her friendships. But, when it comes down to it, she never fudges any of the important things.
For all her mistakes, you support her no matter what. You get inside of her mind and you understand her.
The way the story switches easily between Evie’s typical teenager problems – boys, adulthood, womanhood – and those caused by her anxiety and OCD makes it easy for any reader to empathise with her.
Enough of her story is almost universally relatable that by the time her anxiety has wound her into a fraying know you get exactly how it happened and feel it all right there beside her.
Evie as a teenager is one of the most intelligent and self-aware young women I’ve encountered in life or fiction. I look up to her for her strength, not only in dealing with her General Anxiety Disorder and OCD, but in the way she handles becoming a woman. She shows an admirable resilience in not succumbing to peer pressure and in wanting to forge her own identity.
In her interactions with her peers, it draws a clear line between what is a normal part of growing up and what is not acceptable behaviour once you are a young adult. Evie approaches things like drinking and developing sexuality with a maturity unlike anything I would expect from someone of her age.
Evie’s relationships are just as wonderful. Through all the boy trouble and arguments with her parents, her relationships with the other girls in her life remain the most important thing, with her sister and with her friends. These relationships – the things they talk about, the things they learn together – really highlight how it important it is for women to stick by each other in today’s competitive society.
I love that young women have this role model now.
Reading this book struck me how few teenage girls in fiction have a problem, for instance, with a boy pushing unexpected kisses onto them. I realised that I wish I had half the self-confidence Evie does, even now, a full half decade out of my teenage years.
There are grown adults – including myself – who can learn from this book.
It gives a very clear image of what anxiety and OCD are actually, as well as how offensive it is to casually belittle them. It tackles all the problems girls face as they learn what it means to be a woman in contemporary western culture.
It is frank and heart wrenching and relatable on so many levels.
I think every young woman would benefit from reading this book. And probably the rest of the population too.
Author Bio – Kirstie Summers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.