I did not pick up Normal People during the initial hype for the book, but after Hulu debuted its series based on the story, I had to satisfy my curiosity. This book is everywhere! I can see why Normal People would not appeal to all readers, with its dark undertones and cringe-worthy scenes. However, I found it impossible to put down. I know the story will stick with me. Any book that can simultaneously be described as raw, authentic, painful and beautiful is worth a read.
Normal People is a character-driven story built around the concept that a relationship with one person really can change your entire life. In high school, Marianne is a social outcast, a wealthy girl who is seen as stuck up and is not liked by her peers. While Connell is well-liked and confident, handsome and athletic. Connell’s mother is a housekeeper for Marianne’s family. When Connell stops by to give his mom a ride home from work, the two young people talk and connect.
Marianne and Connell begin exchanging books and seeing each other. Connell wants to keep the relationship a secret so his reputation won’t be damaged by this association with the unpopular girl. Marianne is fully aware of the terms of their romance, but eventually it’s not enough and she cuts Connell off. When they meet again in college, the roles have reversed. Marianne is comfortable with the mostly wealthy, elite crowd, whereas Connell doesn’t fit in and feels out of place. As the two figure out who they are and who they want to be, their paths will diverge and cross, each trying to determine if the other has a final place in their future.
If you’re still waiting for your copy, here are some titles to keep you busy. If you read Normal People and loved it, you might enjoy these books on similar themes.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Like Marianne, Eleanor comes from a dysfunctional background. It affects her relationships and the way she lives her life. At the beginning of the book, Eleanor is locked in a routine. She works all week, blurs the weekend with vodka, and then does it all over again. She has no friends, no filter and no social skills. Her mother is scathing and cruel. Then she meets someone who gradually becomes a friend. He’s warm and easygoing. They eat lunch together and message back and forth. He cares about her feelings and cares enough to check in on her. He changes her life. Readers drawn to character development will find an amazing story of growth, change and the power of love.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy Jones & The Six takes place over decades, giving the perspective of various members of a band as they rise to fame, ant then fall from that height amid drug abuse and in-fighting. There is more than one on-again/off-again love story told here. It feels like reading a fast-paced, tell-all memoir. Like Normal People, character development and the inner lives of the characters really drive the story of some very damaged, relatable people. In a twist, readers won’t discover who is narrating the story until the very end. Also available instantly as an ebook on Hoopla.
One Day by David Nichols
One Day follows two people who are immediately drawn to each other. However, they don’t fit together perfectly despite what they have in common. They have an off and on romance over the course of years. This book is definitely lighter than Normal People, but readers who are drawn to character-driven narratives will enjoy growing and figuring life out with Dexter and Emma.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House shifts the focus of the relationship from romantic to siblings, but the story is another opportunity to see the way a long-term relationship between two people influences their decisions. Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House tells the story of brother and sister, Danny and Maeve. They are kicked out of their family home and denied their inheritance after their father’s death. The two rely on each other as they go to school, pursue careers, and choose how they will spend their lives. Over the years they share many moments parked in a car, looking at the house that should have been theirs. They struggle to let go of their anger and resentment toward the stepmother who changed their lives. Bonus: the audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Interestings explores the ways people change over time and how people impact each other. Six teenagers meet at a summer camp and form a friendship that will last through decades, as each person changes, grows and faces life’s challenges. When the friends first meet at an arts camp, they are all considered “interesting”–creative and bright. Not all the friends will find success in the years ahead. Some of them will need to put aside passion for practicality. The Interestings explores what happens when envy and love collide, testing the bonds of friendship. Available instantly as an audiobook on Hoopla.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This one is the stretch, a story of romance, friendship and loss, with a twist of magic or time travel in the plot line. Dannie has a 5-year plan. She knows where she’ll be working, and where she and her fiancé will be living. Then she wakes up one morning five years in the future and nothing is right. She’s not married to her long-term boyfriend –she’s in bed with another man. When she’s snapped back to the current time, she knows for certain she really saw the future. Dannie can’t help but wonder what happened. Is the vision she saw a destiny that she can’t avoid or can she get back on track? At the heart of the story is a long-term friendship between two women who mean everything to each other. This friendship shapes each other’s paths and destinies. This is an opportunity to get to know a character deeply as she navigates choice, love and loyalty.
Have you read Normal People? Do you think it lived up to the hype?