8. Define Normal by Julie Anne Peters
While in high school, I struggled a great deal with self-injury and depression. One of my closest friends took a theater class at a local college. In it, she and another girl decided to do a modified scene from the book Define Normal. They changed several elements of the characters but kept the overall themes. One of the elements my friend who played Antonia added was that she cut herself. Realizing how my friend did this partly to understand me better, I decided to read this novel. Right away, I was drawn into the story.
Synopsis: Antonia seems like a normal student. Sure, she is quiet without any friends but that just helps her achieve good grades. When she agrees to be a peer counselor, her life changes drastically. Jasmine, the ultimate rebel, is the fellow classmate that she is supposed to mentor. Slowly, these two young teenagers come to realize what they have in common as well as how different their lives are at home. As Jasmine laments over her controlling parents, Antonia begins to allow some of her dark secrets to be seen.
Recovery Pluses: This book shows the impact of depression and alcoholism in a powerful but sensitive way. While reading this book, I imagined where I might be years later if I did not start to fight for recovery. However, instead of being frightening or judgmental, this novel really tried to show the depth of pain that affects everyone involved with a depressed person. I am not the only person who is hurt by my illness; my family and friends struggle along with me. Define Normal was a good reminder of that.
Another helpful aspect of this book was Antonia’s healing from her past. Without giving away any of the plot, I will say that both girls struggle with their home situations. By the end, both are in a better place with their families and each other. Also, they receive the confidence, hope, and inspiration to live out their dreams. Mending has just begun for Antonia while Jasmine is finally appreciating her life but the book ends with much hope for their futures.
There are many more positive elements of this novel. Antonia and Jasmine realize that first impressions and appearances are often wrong as they bond gradually. Stereotypes are shattered as their friendship strengthens. The importance of caring family and treatment of mental illness are emphasized while judging others is shown as unwise and often incorrect. Being yourself and pursuing your passions is shown in a good light instead of simply rebelling or hiding from the world.
Cautions: Although this book deals with painful material, it does so in a very sensitive way. Nothing graphic or offensive is depicted. In fact, Define Normal is very clean overall. A few swear words and light suggestive comments are scattered throughout the novel. Overall, I think this book can be read by younger teenagers and up. Although written for a younger audience, many adults would be helped by reading this novel.
So, I am not planning on simply writing about teenage books for my Media Mondays. However, this book had a strong impact on my life growing up and I believe that it would be helpful to others as well. Without judging or threatening, Define Normal shows the impact of depression, addiction, labels, and family. Many different audiences would be helped by reading this poignant novel: those suffering from depression and their caregivers, parents and their children, teenagers and their teachers. I advise almost anyone to give this book a chance. You might be surprised at how inspiring, touching, and engaging Julie Anne Peters’ novel is while keeping a hopeful honest tone.
- Excerpt of Define Normal on Julie Anne Peter’s Website
- Define Normal on Goodreads
- Define Normal on Amazon
- Julie Anne Peter’s Book Reviews and Awards on Julie Anne Peter’s Website