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The Unpredictability of Being Human

If I got to be God for one day, the first thing I’d do would be to microwave a bag of popcorn to perfection. Where all the corns got popped and not a single corn burned. And then I’d make sure that everyone else who made popcorn that day had their bags cooked to perfection too. I think a lot of people would be happy that day.
The next thing I might do is to take back what happened that day in Holberg’s shop, because that was pretty silly. But then again, maybe I wouldn’t undo it, because if I hadn’t shoplifted that day I wouldn’t have met Hanna Kjerag. You might ask why I don’t change things around so that I met Hanna anyway, but I don’t think it works that way. I think that’s cheating.
I’d like to say that I’d end world hunger and create world peace and fix everything else that’s wrong in this world. But I honestly wouldn’t touch any of that. I figure that if it was that easy, God would have taken care of it all a long time ago. Who knows what sort of trouble I’d stir up if I started messing with that on my first day on the job?
So I’d stick to simpler things, like popcorn. Popcorn can’t cause too much trouble. Besides, it’s the small things in life that matter. That’s what my Norwegian teacher, Trude Fjell, says.
My name is Malin Sande and I am fourteen years old. Last week I was given a school assignment: What would you do if you got to be God for one day?
I failed.
I failed because they said I didn’t take the task seriously. All the kids who said that they wanted to get rid of world hunger passed.
I live in Haasund together with just about 5,346 other people. Unless you’re from Haasund or any of the neighbouring villages, you won’t have heard about the place.
Haasund is a village on the south-western coast of Norway. To get to my house you go up Haugen Hill, which is right next to Hopstad Butcher’s. Then you just continue straight ahead until you reach Thorstein Street. At the end of the street there is a great big red house. It has a huge yard, with grass cut to perfection and a privet hedge surrounding it. On each side of the driveway, two tall birch trees have formed an arch almost welcoming you in. It really is a magnificent house.
I live in the house next to it. The white one with the broken garage door. It should have been painted last summer and the lawn hasn’t been mowed in a while. You’ll see it when you see it.
My teacher gave me two days, four hours and thirty-six minutes to hand in a new paper on what I would do as God’s substitute. So I was sitting in my room with a pen and a blank sheet of paper when my dad stormed in and yelled, “Why are you not taking your schoolwork seriously?” I said that I was. And then he stormed out again. Then my mom came in and asked me why I was being rude to my dad. They’re a bit on edge these days.
The truth is that before I stole that chocolate bar I had never really been in any trouble. I’ve always handed in my homework on time; I’ve never cut class, or smoked a cigarette or anything. It’s not so much because I’m such a good person. It’s because I’m too much of a coward to do any of those things. I worry too much about consequences. My older brother Sigve gets in trouble all the time. He cuts class and smokes cigarettes and stays out past his curfew. And he doesn’t care one bit about consequences. Whenever he misbehaves, my dad yells and shouts and even punches the wall and throws things across the room. And then he yells some more.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, the day I got in trouble, and I was walking home from school. All of a sudden these girls, Frida Berg and Julie Losvik, came up behind me and asked me to wait up. They are the most popular girls in my class. They never talk to me. Frida and Julie don’t carry their books in a backpack like I do, they have them in handbags. Proper handbags, like the ones my mom has. Only my mom’s bags are a lot cheaper. The girls were both wearing puffer jackets and Sorel boots that day and they both had their hair up in French braids. Luckily one is blonde and the other a brunette, or I might not have been able to tell them apart.
“What are you up to today?” Frida said.
“Not much,” I said.
Before I knew it I had walked with them over to Holberg’s shop. Frida said, “You can come to my slumber party on Saturday if you want.”
“Really?” I had never been to a slumber party before.
“Yes. But you have to steal something in the shop first. To show that being a part of our group really matters to you. All the other girls have done it.”
“What do I have to steal?”
Frida and Julie waited outside while I went into the shop. I didn’t really want to steal, but these girls had never shown any interest in me before and now I had the chance to become their friend. Besides, I didn’t want them to think that I was a coward.
I walked up to a shelf and grabbed the first thing I saw. A Stratos chocolate bar. I don’t even like Stratos.
I put it behind my back really quickly. Then I got nervous because I realized that I had forgotten to check if anyone was watching me. I started walking backwards towards the door and I didn’t see where I was going so I bumped into this girl. Our collision made me drop the chocolate and it also caused a bag of gummy bears to fall out from underneath her jacket. Apparently she was on the same mission as me. Through the window I could see that Frida and Julie were already fleeing down Valen Street. And then Holberg himself came over to us with this really strict look on his face and said, “You girls better come with me.”
“You idiot!” the girl hissed at me. The girl was Hanna Kjerag.
We were sitting in the office in the back of the shop while Holberg called our parents. Hanna was wearing dark eye make-up and had a grey beanie hat on her head. She seemed to be mad at the world.
She asked me why I was trying to shoplift when I was so bad at it. I told her what had happened. Hanna raised one eyebrow and said, “You’ve got worse problems than I thought.”
She said I needed better friends. Maybe that’s why she decided to become my friend. Hanna taught me that a friend worth having is someone who doesn’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. She is only a year above me, but she has already had her sixteenth birthday. Perhaps that is why she knows all these things.
Hanna told me not to worry so much and to listen to my heart. My heart told me that I wanted to try and smoke a cigarette.
If I got to be God for one day I’d make sure that everyone had a friend like Hanna. And I wouldn’t change a thing about that day in Holberg’s shop.
Well, perhaps I’d steal a bag of popcorn instead of the Stratos bar. I hate Stratos.
I still wouldn’t fix world peace and end world hunger. If God Himself can’t fix it, how could I? 

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"If I got to be God for one day, I'd like to say I'd end world hunger and create world peace. But I wouldn't. Because if God could fix the big stuff, he'd have done it already."

Malin knows she can't fix the big stuff in her life. Instead, she watches from the sidelines, as her dad yells, her brother lies and her mum falls apart. At least after she meets Hanna she has a friend to help her. Because being Malin is complicated – learning how to kiss, what to wear to prom, and what to do when you upset the prettiest, meanest girl in school.

It's tough fitting in when you're different. But what if it's the world that's weird, not you?

A beautiful, funny and honest coming-of-age story that never pretends life is perfect.

  • Nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2019

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Book information

Lexile Measure
ISBN: 9781474940634
Extent: 288 pages
Dimensions: 198 x 130mm

Author information

Linni Ingemundsen

Linni Ingemundsen is from Norway and currently works with website optimization in Malta. She does not know how to draw but is somehow also a freelance cartoonist. Some of her favourite things in life include chocolate, monsters and her yellow typewriter. Linni has lived in three different countries and will never be done exploring the world. She has worked as a dishwasher in Australia, a volunteer journalist in Tanzania and has approximately 2.5 near death experiences behind her. Still, what truly inspires her writing is her background growing up in a village on the southwestern coast of Norway. Linni began writing her debut novel The Unpredictability of Being Human while on the Oxford Brookes MA in Creative Writing. Her dark, comical storytelling introduces her readers to a small-town community filled with pain, humour and a whole lot of nothingness.

Reader reviews

Read the following reviews or write one of your own.

“The Unpredictability of Being Human”
The Unpredictability of Being Human is a unique coming-of-age novel about fourteen-year old Malin and her experiences in life as a teenager. What I liked most about the story is how it portrays the issues and struggles that some teenagers go through which are usually glamorized and romanticized on most YA contemporaries.
“The Unpredictability of Being Human”
But this is more than the run – of – the mill YA story; what it ended up was a thoughtful process of understanding the wide variety of human emotions, thoughts and opinions and then, it ends up having something for all ages of readers – not just for younger readers but also for mature readers; especially considering the situations & circumstances Malin faced.
“The Unpredictability of Being Human”
I was glad that the messy experience of being a teenager was no sugarcoated in any way, but that Malin finds a way to negotiate it, even when it's not perfect. I think her personal growth and maturity in learning to do that will leave a real impression on teenage readers.
“The Unpredictability of Being Human”
I would recommend the book to other teachers for an interesting read and to deepen their understanding of how some people experience the world and the reasons to explain their behaviours at times.
“The Unpredictability of Being Human”
I thought Malin's Asperger's syndrome was portrayed well in many aspects of the book. Overall I really enjoyed reading the book. I thought it was a good read and I thought Malin was a fantastic character.

Press reviews

“Offer[s] solidarity and gentle encouragement to those who find engagement with the world difficult.”
“A lovely lilting style and pace which skips alongside Malin and her dysfunctional family as their lives are unpicked through loss and pain.”
“[A] little gem of a book...”

Resources for this book

  • Blogger Interview with Linni Ingemundsen
    Book blogger, Laura Patricia Rose, interviews author Linni Ingemundsen about the characters, the world, and the message of her debut novel.
  • Q&A with author Linni Ingemundsen
    Author Linni Ingemundsen reveals who she'd take on a literary road trip, which fictional character she most identifies with and more on the Usborne YA Shelfies blog.