Book Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
Title: Am I Normal Yet?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd
Publication Date: 1st August 2015
Source: Purchased / Kindle
Synopsis: All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she's almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there's only one thing left to tick off her list...
But relationships can mess with anyone's head - something Evie's new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won't tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?
Evie, the main character of this novel, is a teenage girl who is recovering from OCD. She was previously hospitalized and sectioned but when we meet her, she is gradually lowering her medication, about to go on her first date and trying to be “normal” at her new college where only her best friend knows about her past.
I went into this book with pre-conceived ideas about what it would be like: it would be a stereotypical depiction of OCD as only being about cleanliness and order, with the sufferer most likely having a revelation that helped them to recover overnight.
I also thought I might find it difficult to relate to Evie, mostly because she’s 16 (which I’m not) and although we have OCD in common, I couldn’t imagine what else could be similar between us.
It’s not something I like to admit often, but I was so wrong.
By the end of the first chapter, I just felt that the author knew what she was talking about on this subject matter – I don’t know whether that’s by personal experience or research, but Holly Bourne seems to have a great handle on the OCD ‘voice’.
Interspersed throughout the book are the words ‘BAD THOUGHT’ in bold, followed by whatever intrusive thought Evie is experiencing at that moment.
I think the way that these often came in the middle of a situation that was seemingly unrelated to the thought, served well to highlight the interruption caused by these thoughts in real life.
The timing of those thoughts and how quickly they spiraled out of control felt very realistic to me. It starts off with Evie preparing for her first date, brushing her teeth and washing her hands before she leaves. All of a sudden, she has an intrusive thought that she hasn’t washed her hands properly. She deals with it using the coping mechanisms she’s learned through therapy and moves on. However, soon those thoughts escalate from centering on her fear of germs to thoughts like “you’re ugly and stupid and disgusting”, “you’re a massive weirdo”, and “I’m corrupting my little sister”.
These are all thoughts that I (and I’m sure, a lot of other people) can relate to. One intrusive thought on the lower end of the scale can so quickly lead to other thoughts that gradually become worse and worse until they completely consume you.
For me, the escalation of Evie’s rituals was also very familiar. She moves from washing her hands and scrubbing herself clean to touching lampposts six times because it feels ‘right’ and eventually circling around her route home several times so that she can touch the lampposts in the way that she wants to. When observed side by side, there is no logical connection between washing your hands and touching lampposts – if anything, they’re contradictory considering the fact that lampposts are probably covered in germs but to Evie, it’s just essential that she does this.
Although a lot of Evie’s motivation and goals were very typical of a teenager, I still found them relatable. Like Evie, my mental health issues started in my teens so I shared her feeling of having missed out on a significant period of my life because these issues prevented me from doing “normal” teenage things.
The only times I really noticed the age difference between us was when she made some bad (and typically teenage) decisions. The adult in me was screaming at her!
We also get a glimpse into Evie’s sessions with her therapist, Sarah. Therapy sessions are usually portrayed in that stereotypical way, where the patient lies on a leather sofa and pours their heart out to a their therapist who so often is shown to have a “there, there” approach.
In Sarah, we see a portrayal that is (in my experience) much more realistic. Sarah calls Evie out on her destructive behaviour, challenges her to keep pushing her boundaries but ultimately wants to help Evie recover, even if that means having to break her a little more first.
Finally, on a subject other than mental health, Holly Bourne does a great job of addressing some feminism issues in a subtle way. Throughout the book, The Spinster Club (which provides some comic relief from the serious theme of mental health) discusses issues such as tax on feminine hygiene products, the way women are viewed by men, and the amount of time women spending thinking and talking about men. Throughout the book, I found myself nodding along and agreeing with everything they were saying but it was only once I’d finished and read a few reviews of the book that I really noticed that that secondary theme of female empowerment was there.
On the whole, I found ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ to be an honest and realistic portrayal of OCD. Evie’s experience is not presented in a comfortable way – the descriptions of some of the lengths that she’s gone to for her OCD are harrowing but ultimately, need to be included to paint a truthful picture.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone suffering from OCD, anyone who knows someone with OCD (or any mental illness) and honestly, anyone who wants a real insight into the mind of someone with OCD.
A word of warning however for any readers with OCD – I found myself feeling even more emotional than normal when I was reading this. I think that’s testament to how realistic it is, but just bear in mind that the book will probably shine a spotlight on a lot of your own intrusive thoughts and rituals whether they’re in your past or your present.
I read this on my Kindle and I don’t think I’ve ever highlighted so many lines in a book before. At the start of the book, I decided to highlight anything that I found particularly relatable and I’ve included these below:
“That’s the thing about anxiety – it limits your experiences so the only stories you have to tell are the ‘I went mad’ ones.”
“You’ve imposed rituals into therapy, haven’t you?”
“They’re never ‘there, there’, Cognitive Behavioural Therapists. They’re more like having a strict teacher that you know cares about their students deep down somewhere. The most sympathy I’ve ever got out of Sarah was a silent passing of the tissue box…”
“I was getting bored. This was a problem. Boredom leads to worrying.”
“You can worry about anything and everything, dream up all sorts of weird and wonderful situations to be terrified of in the hope your fear will control the world somehow…and yet the world remains uncontrollable.”
“As I said before – mental illness, we sure as hell know the words for it, but we still can’t have sympathy with the actual behaviour.”
“Just because it’s illogical doesn’t mean it’s any less scary.”
“So much life lost.”
“Maybe…the word of hope.”
“I don’t know why it was six. But six just felt…right.”
“To acknowledge the thought, bring myself back to the present moment, and walk back out into the band competition – anxious, yes, but knowing I wasn’t letting it win.”
“I missed yet more of my life, because of myself.”