Sometimes you find a book that just reaches right into your soul and grabs a hold of you in a most wonderful way. This week I read a book that did just that for me, this book is titled The Definition Of Normal and was written by E.S. Carpenter.
Allow me to touch on three things very quickly here and then we will get to the meat of my review.
First off you are probably wondering why, if this book touched me so deeply, am I only giving it four paddles rather than five? Please just bear with me a bit and I'll get to that.
Second, even if you don't feel like reading any more of this review please click on the link above; buy a copy of this book and read it.
Third... This book is not erotica. I know I usually review erotica here, and this book does have a few erotic scenes (which are very well done by the way), mostly though this is a love story and a story that conveys a wonderful and thoughtful message.
I'll try not to divulge too much below, but beware there may be some spoilers.
The Definition Of Normal tells the story of two boys, Jacob and Steven, who grow up together as best friends from the age of five. Jacob outwardly appears to meet the societal definition of normal but Steven does not and he struggles with this. The story tells of Steven's struggle and of Jacob's support and love for him through this struggle. Steven struggles with gender issues and eventually is able to become Stephie, her true self. At the same time Jacob is not as 'normal' as he might appear, he is in fact in love with Steven/Stephie. Steven/Stephie is in love with Jacob as well.
We are brought along on Stephie and Jacob's journey as their love and understanding of themselves and each other grow. We also see how they face the challenges of sharing these parts of themselves with family and with facing a culture that is not always accepting.
The author does a wonderful job of leading us along this path and giving food for thought regarding just what normal really is. What is gender, and why has society decided that there are only two? Do the body parts we are born with really define our gender? What about those who are born intersexed?
The author also challenges us to think about why something that might be outside our own definition of 'normal' is therefore wrong? Why is it wrong to express the way we feel inside through the way we dress just because society says males shouldn't wear dresses or females should be all femininity? Why is it wrong to love someone of the same sex? Why is what is between someones legs more important than what is in their heart?
The roles that society, and religion have played in determining what is normal are also brought into this story in a very thought provoking way.
As I said above this story really touched me. I could relate so closely to the characters, especially Stephie, I found myself totally involved in the journey that she was experiencing. I felt her emotions, I was brought to tears, both of sadness and of joy, for her.
Now for a bit of critique and the reasons why I am giving this book four rather than five paddles...
The authors writing style, especially when writing dialog, seemed a bit contrived and stilted at times. I realize that the author was trying to convey a message, a very important and powerful message, but some of the dialog just didn't ring true; I mean I just have a hard time imagining anyone speaking quite the way the characters spoke at times.
There was some angst and conflict in the story, but in a way the story was a bit too idealistic. I suppose that the acceptance that Jake and Stephie were shown by their families is not completely beyond imagination, but I felt it was a bit far fetched. It would be wonderful if all families were so accepting, but that's not the way the world seems to be in reality. I loved these families for being so welcoming as Jake and Stephie went through these changes but I also kind of felt like the story might have been even better if we had seen a bit more of the struggle that many of us go through in accepting what is outside of our definition of 'normal.' One of the parents did have a bit of a struggle accepting everything, but I thought that could have been explored more in depth.
Editing was not perfect in this book, but it was not a deal breaker by any means. The book is very readable.
I wish that everyone would read this book, but I especially hope that anyone who has every felt that they might be a different gender than that they were assigned at birth, or who might feel like they fall somewhere rather than at the very ends of the gender spectrum, or who in anyway feel that they sometimes are not quite what society deems 'normal, will pick up a copy. I think that this book will touch those people especially.
This book has a powerful message and provokes thinking about issues which we should all give serious consideration.
I'm giving this book four out of five paddles, I highly recommend it.