It started with a house party.
This wasn’t just any house party. It was also My First Date. Like first EVER date. In my entire life. Because, finally, following all the crap that had gone down, I was ready for boys.
His name was Ethan and he liked the Smashing Pumpkins (whatever that is) and he’d managed to grow real stubble already. And he liked me enough to ask me out after sociology. And he was funny. And he had really small, but cute, dark eyes, like a ferret or something. But a sexy ferret. And he played the drums and the violin. Both! Even though they’re, like, totally different instruments. And and…
…and – oh, Christ – what the HELL was I going to wear?
Okay, so I was stressing. And obsessing. “Obstressing” times a million. In an utterly deplorable way. But this was a big deal to me. I was doing something NORMAL for once. And I reckoned I could just about pull it off. And I did know what I was wearing. I’d run through every possible clothing combination in existence before opting for tight jeans, black top and a red necklace, i.e. what I reckoned to be the safest date outfit ever.
I was going to be normal again. But I was going to step back into it safely.
Jeans = Cool, just-like-everyone-else, and I-won’t-sleep-with-you-right-away-so-don’t-even-think-about-it-mister.
Black top = Slimming – yes, I know…well it was a first date, and my drugs had made me a bit…puffy.
Red necklace = Hints of sexiness underneath, for when you’ve been a good boy, and in six months’ time, when I’m ready, and you’ve said you love me, and lit some candles and all that stuff that probably doesn’t actually ever happen to anyone…
…Oh, and you’ve been deep-cleaned and put through ten STI tests.
Nice. Safe. Outfit.
Put it on, Evie. Just put the damn thing on.
So I did.
* * *
Before I get into how it went and how it was the beginning of something, but not the beginning of Ethan, I guess you’ll want to know how I met him so you have some emotional investment.
Bollocks. I just gave away that Ethan and I didn’t work out.
Oh well. Whoever had a great love affair with a guy who looked like a sexy ferret?
How Evie Met Ethan
New college. I’d started a brand new college, where only a handful of people knew me as “that girl who went nuts”. Despite my tiny collection of mostly-home-educated GCSEs, the college let me in to do my A levels because I’m actually quite smart when I’m not being sectioned.
I noticed Ethan in my very first sociology lesson. Mainly because he was the only boy in there. Plus, the sexy stubble ferretness.
He sat across from me and our eyes met almost instantly.
I looked behind me to check who he was staring at. There wasn’t anyone behind me.
“Hi, I’m Ethan,” he said, giving me a half-wave.
I waved back with a flap of my hand. “Hi, I’m Evelyn…Evie. Always Evie.”
“Have you done sociology before, Evie?”
I looked at the crisp new textbook on my desk, its spine still utterly intact.
“Me neither,” he said. “But I heard it was a Mickey Mouse subject. An easy A, right?” He did this big grin that caused all sorts of stuff to happen to my insides. So much so that I had to sit down in my chair – except I was already sitting in it, so I just sort of wiggled awkwardly, panicked, then giggled to cover it. “Why are you taking it?” he asked.
A question. You can answer questions, Evie. So I smiled and said, “I thought it was safer than psychology.”
Oops. Think. You think before you answer questions.
His face wrinkled underneath his mop of unruly hair. “Safer?” he repeated.
“Yeah, you know,” I tried to explain. “I…er…well…I didn’t want to get any extra ideas.”
“I’m very impressionable.”
“What sort of ideas?” he leaned over the desk with interest. Or confusion.
I shrugged and fiddled with my bag.
“Well in psychology you learn about all the different things that can go wrong in your brain,” I said.
I fiddled with my bag some more. “Well, it’s more to worry about, isn’t it? Like, did you know there’s this thing called Body Integrity Identity Disorder?”
“Body Identi-what-now?” he asked, doing the smile again.
“Integrity Identity Disorder. It’s where you wake up one day, convinced you shouldn’t have two legs. You suddenly hate your spare leg, and you really want to be an amputee. In fact, some sufferers actually pretend to be amputees! And the only way to cure it is to get a limb hacked off illegally by this special leg-hacker doctor. People don’t usually get BIID, that’s what they call it, BIID, until their early twenties. Either of us could get it. We don’t know yet. We can only hope we stay emotionally attached to all our limbs. That’s why sociology is safer, I reckon.”
Ethan burst out laughing, making all the other girls in my new class turn and stare.
“I think I’m going to like doing sociology with you, Evie.” He gave me a tiny wink and a cheeky head tilt.
My heart started beating really quickly, but not in its usual trapped-insect way. In a new way. A good way.
“Thanks, I guess.”
Ethan didn’t do anything other than stare at me for the rest of the lesson.
That’s how we met.
I looked at my reflection. First up close, my nose pressed against the mirror. I stepped back and looked again. Then I closed my eyes and opened them really quickly to surprise myself into an unbiased reaction.
I didn’t look bad, you know.
From my reflection, you definitely couldn’t tell how nervous I was.
My phone beeped and my heart did a little earthquake.
Hey, just on the train. Looking forward to seeing u tonight. x
He was coming. It was real. Then I saw the time on my phone and panicked. I was seven minutes away from leaving late. I chucked everything into a bag, then ran to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my hands.
Just as I’d finished, it happened.
Have you washed them properly?
I nearly doubled over. It was like someone had stabbed me in the guts with a knitting needle.
No no no no no.
And then another came to join the party.
You should wash them again, just to make sure.
I did double over then, holding onto the edge of the sink as my body crumpled. Sarah’d warned me this could happen. That the thoughts may come back when I cut down my dosage. She told me to expect it. It would be okay though, she said, because I had “coping mechanisms” now.
My mother knocked on the bathroom door. She’d probably been secretly timing me again – anything over five minutes was a warning sign.
“Evie?” she called.
“Yes, Mum,” I called back, still knotted over.
“You okay in there? What time do you need to leave for your party?”
She only knew about the party. She didn’t know I had a date. The less Mum knew, the better. My little sister Rose knew, but had been sworn to secrecy.
“I’m fine. I’ll be out in a sec.”
I heard her footsteps thump down the hallway and I let out a slow breath.
You’re okay, Evie. You don’t need to wash your hands again, do you? You only just washed them. Come on, up you get.
Like a well-trained soldier, I straightened myself and calmly unlocked the bathroom door. But not before one last brain malfunction muscled its way in for a parting shot.
Uh oh, it’s coming back.
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?
Listen to Holly Bourne talk fun and feminism in the Spinster Club
“What we love about this book is that Evie is not reduced to her condition. She might have OCD and that make her life complicated, but it’s not the only complication: there’s also college, friends, feminism and first loves to deal with too. All she wants is to be normal. But does normal even really exist? ”
“This YA novel takes a very funny and poignant look at OCD, secrets, feminism and friendship.”
“Holly Bourne is exploding across the YA scene with her incredible Spinster trilogy, all about feminism and friendship.”
“A brutal and brilliant takedown of how we talk about mental illness, feminism, and friendship. If you’ve ever felt out of the ordinary, this is for you (ie everyone). It manages to be enjoyable without being flippant, incisive without being preachy. My first thought having finished it was “I wish I’d read this when I was a teenager”, but in all truth I think it’s just as valuable to have read it now.”
“A beautiful tale on the reality of being normal.”
Paper Trail YA
“The book every young woman needs on her bookshelf this year.”
“Topical, thought-provoking, honest, current, relevant, kind of quirky.”
What Kids Are Reading ‘Quiz Writers' Choice Award’ judges
“Those who immerse themselves in the world of teenage fiction will have heard of Holly Bourne—and if you haven’t, then you will.”
“This book is one of the most important books published in 2015, exploring important concepts such as feminism and mental health, and also family tensions, friendships, and romance, it's a book everyone should be reading”
“Takes a hard look at young people's experiences with mental health.”
“Holly Bourne is becoming something of a writing sensation in the world of Young Adult fiction… Using humour, high emotion, compassion, sensitivity and some hard-hitting drama, Bourne creates a beautiful, resonant story that tackles serious issues with the lightest and sometimes darkest of touches, giving real and moving insights into what it means to be young, confused and isolated.”
Lancashire Evening Post
“This book is just as much about feminism as it is about mental illness. It is my dream book... Bourne truly is one of the best YA writers.”
The Mile Long Bookshelf
“A contemporary, feminist teen story.”
“This is not a novel about a condition: Evie’s condition is that of being a contemporary young woman, and through her guerrilla feminist group with new soulmates Lottie and Amber (who will each get a novel to themselves shortly) she learns new pathways through life that all her peers can follow.”
“A wonderfully vivid story of female friendship in all its glory. The descriptions of Evie’s condition leave the reader in no doubt as to the depth of her suffering, but this is a positive, often very funny, and life-affirming read.”
“If I could, I’d make this book obligatory reading for everyone. It’s that good. That perfect. That ‘holy frick I haven’t read anything this powerful in a long while’.”
Beth Reekles, YA author (The Kissing Booth)
“A deeply compassionate, sensitive & funny examination of OCD, recovery & relapse.”
Imogen Russell Williams, The Guardian
“I want to commend the way Holly Bourne has written Evie’s experience of OCD, she has done her research, she writes with compassion but her words are a slap into reality.”
Hello I am Mariam
“Holly Bourne is an incredibly important voice in YA and I’ll definitely be digging into her backlist and putting her future releases straight on my wishlist. Am I Normal Yet? is an empowering, emotional and honest novel that should be available to all teens.”
So Many Books, So Little Time
“Holly has a knack for tackling sensitive issues like this without triggering or undermining their seriousness. .. The tone and voice in Am I Normal Yet? is so realistic and refreshing.”
Famous in Japan
“This book is a stigma buster and I love it for that.”
Guardian reader review
“Holly is the pure, real, honest voice of YA. She is the future. For those who haven't picked up her novels, you are missing out terribly.”
Never Judge a Book by its Cover
“A fresh young adult contemporary story that packs so many important things into one book.”
All the Pretty Books
“An involving look at feminism, friendship and the secrets we hide even from those who know us best.”
“A fun and enjoyable type of book. You'll just continue reading until you find out what will really happen to the characters.”
Home of a Book Lover
“Wow, just finished AM I NORMAL YET, which was absolutely fantastic!! What a well needed, moving, and brill book!”
Louise Corcoran, Foyles
“I love the Spinsters Club, and I so want my own! What I love is how Bourne breaks down these ideas so they are so accessible! ... There are a few feminist YA stories out at the moment, but this is the first I've read that actually talks about feminism and discusses how to be a feminist, and I think it really could be a game changer! And I am so happy! I am so, so happy and excited!”
Once Upon a Bookcase
“This book was amazing... it really tells the truth about everything... If you’ve not read this I really suggest you do.”
The Readers Corner
“This book is really important for two reasons. 1. The insight it gives the reader into the mind of someone suffering from OCD. 2. The constant references to and exploration of feminist ideas and theories. Besides the fact that it's important and deals with serious issues, it's well written with fully realised characters you really care about. I wish I had read this book when I was 15. Highly recommended. ”
Louise O'Neil, Goodreads
“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.”
The Blarney Bear
“A fantastic story that has to be my favourite YA book of 2015. A fantastic read on the topic of mental health and I can't recommend it enough.”
Words from a Reader
“A word that perfectly encompasses this book is 'thought-provoking' - by challenging stigma and addressing topics that are sometimes avoided and brushed under the carpet, it really makes you think. We need more books like this!”
Snazzy Reads blog
“One of my favourite books, this one is about mental illness. “How can a book about mental illness be funny?” I hear you ask. I don’t know, but Bourne pulls it off and gets the balance just right. It’s a wonderful book and you need to read it.”
“I love, love, loved the fact that strong female friendship was the absolute foundation of this book. There is some romance in this story, but Evie and her friends take centre stage, and I thought they were brilliant (and hilarious) together.”
Mud and Stars
“It’s refreshing to read a novel which discusses what it’s really like to be a teenage girl ... this book is fantastic. It’s original, funny and realistic.”
“Holly Bourne, you’re a genius and I cannot wait for the second book in the Normal series. BRING IT ON.”
Emma Lou Book Blog
“Am I Normal Yet? is such a important novel that I urge everyone to read it, regardless of age or gender. Everyone will be able to take something away from this novel, whether it’s a greater understanding about mental health, a comfort that you’re not alone, or even just the knowledge that if someone looks OK on the outside, it doesn’t always mean they’re OK on the inside.”
Blabbering About Books blog
“At last a YA book has come along that challenges the mixed messages that modern society sends out to girls and introduces young openly feminist characters who I’m sure will become heroes to teen girls everywhere. Am I Normal Yet? is a must read for anyone who recognises just how tough being a girl really is.”
Jess Hearts Books
“It’s not a book that I can find fault with because it was just written so perfectly and so carefully and sensitively. I just enjoyed it so much.”
Lucy the Reader
“This book was kind of astounding to me... I got through Am I Normal Yet? in one sitting.”
A Novel Youth
“A fantastic and enjoyable read whilst confronting series issues such as relapse, feminism and growing up in general.”
Gem, Waterstones Birmingham
“An epic and unique release this summer that I plead you all to pick up! This novel has a distinct British feel with moments mixed with laughter, tainted with tears and bound with love. Holly Bourne has created a beautiful tale.”
Paper Trail YA
“It was a real heart wrenching book and I recommend every single teenage girl and boy read it. I couldn’t put it down, a truly inspiring book. A massive 5 stars.”
Rose Heathcote, age 16, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“One of the most real and honest accounts of teenage life in a fiction book I have ever read. It was interesting, exciting, sad, and to top it all off it really made me think.”
Lauren Coffman, age 15, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“A real eye opener, especially when paired with the issues of feminism and how it is perceived. A definite recommendation for all of those wishing to read between the lines”
Delilah Acworth, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
Tilda S, Twitter
“I really enjoy the tone and voice of the book. It is able to talk about the serious topic of OCD while still being humorous. It is a perfect mix of informative and amusing.”
Charlotte Crisp, age 14, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“Am I Normal Yet? is 100% brilliant. Only on p.100 and it's already the best portrait of the nuances of OCD I've ever read.”
Alexia Cascale, Twitter
“What a well needed, moving, and brill book!”
Sophie Reid, Twitter
“Teens are extremely lucky to have this book available to them and I hope it reaches the widest possible audience. An essential and vital book for teens today.”
Jade Craddock, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“Funny and sad and beautiful and brilliant.”
Girls Heart Books
“Just finished 'Am I Normal Yet?' and I seriously have no words. I want to squeeze/hug you Holly Bourne.”
Snazzy Reads, Twitter
“”I'm actually quite smart when I'm not being sectioned." So enjoying the humour & honesty of Am I Normal Yet?”
Fiona Noble, The Bookseller
“This was a great book which had a gripping storyline as well as featuring important themes such as feminism. It was very interesting and included relatable characters.”
Chloe Mcilroy, age 15, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“This amazing book by Holly Bourne deals with topics such as medication, and tackling school social interactions while having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Throw a potential relationship into the mix and things get complicated.”
“This is quite easily Bourne's best novel yet. Might have been a tricky subject matter, but it was funny and heartbreaking and thought-provoking.”
An Awful Lot of Reading
“I really do think that this book is incredible and it is absolutely on the list of my favourite books this year... [It’s]honest and utterly loveable, and I really can’t wait for the next two books to be published (oh yeah, there’s more to come!!!)”
“The friendship between these girls is something I long to see in many more books.”
Hello I am Mariam
“Once in a while, you stumble across that one book that not only amuses you but also opens your eyes to the wrongs of this world and compels you to somehow help to make it right. This happened to me unexpectedly after reading Am I Normal Yet?”
“This book is a stigma buster, and for all the right reasons. It's incredible.”
“This was a book that I really wanted to read and it didn't disappoint. Such funny and sad parts will make this an amazing book!”
Sophie Ufton, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“Mental illnesses everybody says they have them, not really, I don't think you really understand what it’s like, not like Evie does.”
Amelia White, age 15, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“Seeing anxiety disorders through her eyes was raw and at times heart-breaking, but it is that way, and it was great reading a good representation of what it is really like to have.”
Edel Waugh, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“I loved this book, as soon as I started reading it I couldn't stop!”
Immy Fisher, for lovereading4kids.co.uk
“I enjoyed this book, and plan to read more of Holly Bourne's novels.”
Emma Hughes, for lovereading4kids.co.uk