“Normal People” Review


I stand tall, pushing myself up, hoping to reach a new height this year. My mom sighs, tracing the pencil over and over until a dark mark appears in line with my head. I step back and peer at my marks over the years. I’ve grown, definitely aged, but not nearly as quickly as I hoped. Maturing doesn’t happen overnight, as I have constantly been reminded, but still, I wished I would feel different by sixteen.

Most of the time, I don’t know exactly what I want. I get caught up in the vulnerability and exhilaration of adolescence. When I first picked up ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, I was skeptical at best. My mom had smiled at me when I had first laid it down on the kitchen table. “Oh, I loved that book,” she had said. Still doubtful, I sat down to read. I opened the book, and I was thrust into the intertwined lives of Connell and Marianne, which I couldn’t help but relate to.

‘Normal People’ follows the lives of Connell and Marianne as they progress through youthful ignorance to precarious stages of adulthood. Rooney skillfully draws in the reader, providing intimate details that humanize the characters.

The book opens in an uncomfortable, small town, where Marianne and Connell both attend high school. Marianne is loveably awkward, too smart for her own good and too sour for anyone else. In stark contrast, Connell is effortlessly popular, smart and well-assured, he is well-liked among his peers. The two continually gravitate towards each other, eventually forming a tumultuous relationship. As the elation of the youthful relationship fades, as it often does, the two find themselves in a crossroads.

As the novel progresses the pair find themselves in a similar position frequently; they grow together, they fall apart. Their love blossoms from a youthful infatuation to a meaningful relationship.

Rooney artfully touches on the fragility of adolescence and connections; Connell and Marriane struggle with communication and adulthood, never quite reaching a point of true maturity. Their fear of embarrassment and vulnerability controls their lives, leaving them at uncomfortable and haphazard stages of a relationship.

The book digs into human connection, illuminating our need for love and belonging. As I read, I found myself relating to the characters, almost to a fault. I wanted the characters to be perfect, to be book characters. I wanted the characters to grow as I could not, leaving behind the fragile shell of youthful ignorance; shooting up past their old marks on the wall, leaving the previous lines well in the past. Instead of being perfect, Marianne and Connell were faulted.

Many times, I cast aside the book, cursing the characters, wishing they could act in the scripted way characters were supposed to; all the chapters and all the challenges leading to the tidy happy ending. Fortunately, this is ‘Normal People’ and nothing can be that easy. The book is realistic, describing the rough corners of complex relationships, not letting any solutions happen quickly or easily. The character’s flaws are what makes the novel so strong, and so maddening, ‘Normal People’ is genuine, depicting the terrifying transition from youth to adulthood, in terms of one long, turbulent relationship.

Rooney’s writing is beautiful and heartbreaking — she does not waste time with unnecessary writing. She avoids lengthy sentences, opting for shorter and more interesting structures. Another artistic choice she makes is emitting quotations, dialogue stands alone, awkward without its signaling quotations. The awkwardness in the conversations is magnified by the grammar, the characters’ interactions are stilted and uncomfortable.

‘Normal People’ is a collection of juvenile hurdles the characters are struggling to leap over; Marianne and Connell trip, fall and bound towards the finish line, growing, learning and healing over and over. Occasionally they collide, falling over each other, creating bumps and bruises that take time to heal. Sometimes, they run in tandem, keeping pace with each other, their connection stable and constant. Rooney’s simplistic writing style, ability to connect the reader to the characters and overall charm creates a compelling and insightful novel on adolescence, romance and intertwining relationships.