Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Release Date: August 11, 2014
It’s the kind of situation most people would dread. Starting at a new high school, in the middle of my senior year, in a new town, in a new state. I know no one. No one knows me. That’s what I’m counting on.
A year ago, Aurora “Rory” Pine was just a normal teenage girl – just as sweet and naive as the fairy tale princess she was named after.
But this isn’t a year ago.
Rory is broken, and now suffering from a debilitating anxiety disorder, wrought with precarious triggers, she moves across the country to escape the source of her troubles. Her plan is anonymity, but that’s easier said than achieved for the new girl having a panic episode outside of calculus. The worst part? There’s a witness – and a gorgeous one at that.
Sam is a walking trigger for Rory. Incredibly handsome, built like the star athlete he obviously is, and undoubtedly popular, Sam outwardly represents everything Rory despises about high school. But as the fates keep throwing them together, a connection sparks that neither ever expected, and certainly couldn’t ignore.
But Sam has issues too, and Rory’s past won’t just stay in the damned past. When friendship evolves into something deeper, can a girl utterly destroyed by the worst kind of betrayal and a boy battling demons of his own ever have a normal relationship? Is that even what they want? Find out in NORMAL, a gritty story of trust and abuse, heartbreak and salvation, and if they’re lucky – love. This is not a flowery romance – not for the faint of heart.
***I received this book in exchange for an honest review via the author
+++This book does contain triggers- sexual, physical, and psychological abuse as well as MATURE content
- Normal is the kind of book that opens your heart, examines its parts and then stomps all over it only to put it back together again, better than before. It’s feels overload. The flashback scenes are gut-wrenching, horrifying, the sort of paralyzing trauma that leaves you breathless in sheer fear and trembling with tears. Rory’s suffering is incredibly moving and heartbreaking. Every remembered incident is an open wound and your heart will bleed right along with her. Grab your tissues. Lots of them.
- The violence is graphic and brutal. The details physically are coupled with Rory’s internal dialogue. Her thoughts are she was in the moment are scattered and conflicted as she tries to process the reality of her situation and to understand how something so horrific can happen. Some scenes may have you averting your eyes or skimming. It’s hard to read because it is emotional chaos. The scenes in the car, omg, and the locker room. I’d never been so scared for a character in my life. The terror will consume you and open doors to understanding.
- When you get to the back of the book, there’s an explanation of the inspiration behind this novel. Danielle Pearl said she wanted to write a book about abuse that is not black and white but the perfect shade of gray. Pearl exceeded by expectations. There are times when you want to be mad at Rory, that you want to shake her and scream for her to get out of there but her thought process will have you pausing, rethinking. Rory’s mentality, her youth and inexperience are highlighted and very believable. For a girl who was just coming into her sexuality and unsure of what it means to have a boyfriend let alone a sexual relationship, her innocence and confusion really challenge the notion that everything is black and white. Rory doesn’t know, she feels alone, diminished, and broken with no one to talk to because she has been taught to feel shame. My heart broke for Rory and the rage was intense. Every time I hear the justification for assault as someone was asking for it incites my fury. It’s ridiculous and Rory epitomizes how this notion sinks under the skin, making girl question whether or not rape is their fault. Also, the excuse for cheating as “I have needs.” UGHHHHH.
- Rory’s anxiety, her triggers, her life-preserver of just knowing her pills are there if she needs help are accurate and insightful portrayals of PTSD. That Rory should have to feel paralyzed to be alone in a room with a male, that she has to constantly adjust her life so as to not aggravate her triggers is unfair and honest. Every ounce of uncertainty and how it comes over her in sudden waves of fear granted more psychological understanding of a character than I’ve experienced.
- Rory is brave. Her courage is an inspiration and made of awe. That she, knowing the possible consequences and the Golden status of her abuser, had it in her to make a report is powerful to read. Despite everything she’s suffered and her severe psychological and physical scars, she took a stand to save herself. Rory is that character that forces you to think, to feel, and experience. She’s the kind of character that will leave you all over the place, bogged down with emotion. Rory is a tiny broken bird, thirsting to disappear into the background but when she shines, she’s a phoenix. Rory is resilient in body and spirit, she’s an example of hope that everyone should read.
- Sam is a lesson in patience and compassion. He cradles and soothes Rory. He understands her on a deep level that transcends his years and his playboy attitude. He gets it. His own story is sad and violent, he struggles with control but realizes that he is a better person, that overcoming is an everyday challenge.
- Sam and Rory together are therapeutic. They’re a wonder couple. They have their challenges, every day is a little better when their together and in each other’s arms they can move on from the past that haunts them. They’re playful and real, they share their secrets and feel safe with each other. It’s beautiful and a little tragic but the kind of love that speaks of forever.
- The cover is not something that would make me pick it up.
He is a walking trigger for me. Gorgeous. My God is he gorgeous. And gorgeous guys in high school are assholes. Especially jocks. And judging by his physique, that’s exactly what he is. He’s tall. Built. Six plus feet of lean muscle… athletic. Something I’d have found incredibly attractive a year ago.
Now, all I can think is how easy it would be for him to overpower me.
No matter how many self-defense classes I take, I’m still just an average height, slight figured girl. No match against him. No match against any man really.
Suddenly all I register is the desolately empty hallway, the absence of any other souls. The fact that there are over a thousand people in this building, including thirty or so just on the opposite side of the door he just exited, is completely and utterly lost on me.
My pulse races again, ten times worse than before. I gape at him in shocked panic, but can’t catch my breath enough to speak. My hand reaches for the front pocket of my backpack again, but this time for the zipper. I can’t get a grip on it, my fingers shake too much. My gaze makes its way up this stranger’s frighteningly powerful body, up past a chiseled jaw, and lips so full and soft looking they are in total contrast to his masculine bone structure. My gaze inexorably continues its path past a straight nose framed by perfectly defined cheek bones, and lock on his eyes.
The sneer I expect is missing. He’s not looking at me like I’m a crazy weirdo – though I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve become – instead, he’s watching me with genuine concern. His eyes are the deepest blue, like a midnight sky, and his brow is creased with worry.
And the strangest thing happens. As we keep eye contact, I start to calm. I breathe in, and out. In, and out. I am still panicking, but I can breathe, and my fingers stop shaking enough to get a grip on the zipper pull. I look down to unzip the pocket and grab the bottle, but as soon as our eye contact is broken, I can’t remember what calmed me in the first place and start breathing hard again. My chest constricts. The bottle tumbles from my trembling fingers and rolls a few feet away. Before I can scramble to pick it up, he does it first.
I freeze, waiting for him to hand me my medication, but he pauses, and reads the label. His brow furrows again in concern, or consternation, and as he reluctantly hands me the bottle, I can feel him judging me. But I don’t care yet. I can’t. I need to calm down. I need a pill. I twist open the lid and look up and down the hall and silently thank God when I see a water fountain. I force myself the thirty or so feet to it, pop the pill, take a drink, and then lean back against the wall and close my eyes, waiting for the magic to take effect.
Slowly, the pressure in my chest alleviates. My breathing starts to even out, and though my mind is a bit cloudy – the whole reason I want to stop taking the pills in the first place – the attack is passing. A few more moments and I’ll be able to open my eyes, maybe even venture into math class.
My eyelids fly open. I hadn’t realized he was still here, let alone followed me to the water fountain.
“Fine. Like I said,” I mutter ungratefully. He furrows his brow and hesitates and I wonder why he’s even still here. For a split second, even calmed by modern medicine, I worry he might want to hurt me, and I swallow nervously and hold my breath.
“Why don’t I know you, Aurora?” he asks casually, as if he didn’t just witness me breaking down in the hallway.
“Rory,” I correct, before I realize he just called me by name. “Wait. How do you know my name?” My tone makes me sound paranoid, and the irony is that had I not just ingested anti-anxiety medication, just the idea of this tall, ruggedly beautiful boy knowing something about me I hadn’t offered him would have sent me spiraling into another attack. But I took the pill. I caved. So I can come across like a relatively normal person, at least for now.
“It was on your… um… bottle,” he replies.
I look down, mortified. Vaguely I wonder if he knows what Alprazolam is prescribed for, even though he obviously just witnessed my attack. I’m thankful the bottle says the generic name, and not just Xanax, which teens generally recognize. Some even take it for fun, which doesn’t make sense to me. There is nothing fun about any of it.
“So why don’t I know you, Rory?”
“I’m new,” I practically whisper.
“I see. Well, welcome to Port Wood. I’m Sam. Sam Caplan.”
“Nice to meet you,” I breathe, still without looking up.
“So, can I, like, walk you to the nurse’s office or something?”
Now I look up. “No. Like I said, I’m fine. I just need to get to class.” I turn and start to walk back toward room 313 when another student comes barreling down the hall. I pause and step back toward the wall, out of his way.
“Cap! What’s up? I’m late as fuck!” he announces to explain why he’s taking the halls like a bat out of hell. However, as soon as his gaze skates over me he comes skidding to a stop. “Well, hi there.” His eyebrows rise with interest and he rakes my entire body with his gaze, he doesn’t even try to hide it.
I take another automatic step back and fold my arms protectively over my middle. I tell myself that he’s just flirting. It’s harmless. It’s normal.
But I’m not normal.
I’m so glad I’m medicated right now.
Sam seems to sense my unease and steps in front of me, practically shielding me from someone who is obviously his friend. His friend’s brows draw together as he looks at Sam, clearly confused at his stance, as am I.
“Sorry, Tuck, we’re late too, gotta get to class,” Sam explains as he gently takes my hand and leads me back towards calculus. I’m momentarily stunned by his touch. A strange man taking hold of my hand should have freaked me out, even medicated. But his touch was somehow… comforting.
“Uh, okay. Catch you later, I guess,” Tuck calls out and resumes his jog down the hall in the opposite direction.
As soon as he’s gone I yank my hand back, ignoring the fact that a part of me doesn’t want to.
“Sorry,” Sam offers.
I just shrug in response.
“He’s harmless. Tuck. Tucker. He’s just a flirt.”
“Whatever. It’s fine. I’m-“
“You’re fine. I got it.”
I look up at him. Back into those eyes. Big mistake. I start to feel guilty. It appears that I’ve grown so accustomed to being the victim that I can’t even recognize when someone is trying to help me. Great. Now I’m a bitch. “I’m sorry,” I mutter.
“Whatever, it’s cool. You in my class? Calc?” he gestures to the door to 313.
“Cool, let’s go.”
“Didn’t you… weren’t you headed somewhere?” I ask. After all, he must have had somewhere he’d needed to go – before he got sidetracked by the new girl having an episode in the hallway. Sam chuckles and it’s a lighthearted, genuinely sweet sound. The kind of laugh that instantly puts you at ease, that intimates sincerity and warmth. I’m surprised by how it affects me.
“Nah. I just get bored in calculus sometimes and ask for a bathroom pass.” He shrugs and opens the door for me.
I go in ahead of him and to my surprise, he grabs the form out of my hand and slams it on the teacher’s desk. “New student,” he murmurs, as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world and then takes a seat in the second row.
The teacher barely looks up as he directs me to take a seat, which I do – as far back as I can – and the few students who look up, mostly girls, look only at Sam. And I can’t blame them.
And just like that, I’m back to being invisible.
Danielle Pearl is a novelist focusing on the New Adult genre. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two delicious little boys, and has been writing since she could hold a pencil. Danielle is a book addict and spends every free moment consuming as many novels as humanly possible. She grew up on Long Island with her parents, twin brother, and younger brother and sister who are also twins. She is the eldest granddaughter of Zus Bielski, famous for leading the Bielski Partisans who saved over 1,200 Jewish men, women, & children in Nazi occupied Poland. Her grandparents and family were featured in the 2010 film Defiance, starring Liev Schreiber, who played Danielle’s grandfather, Daniel Craig, and Jamie Bell, and was directed by Edward Zwick.
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