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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 suffering from a new 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 can’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.
Rory and Sam fell in love in NORMAL, and we all fell in love right along with them. Now see it all unfold through Sam’s eyes, and learn just how the new girl with anxiety issues stole the heart of the gorgeous heartthrob, and turned his world upside down.
You already heard the story. The one of how Rory and I fell in love, supposedly, even if she couldn’t handle it in the end. You know how it all went.
Or you think you do.
You only know her side. But I have my own point of view, and even Rory couldn’t know my thoughts in those few months it took for her to go from being a stranger to my whole entire world.
Every moment is permanently ingrained in my memory. In my goddamned soul. From the moment I stumbled upon the girl panicking outside of calculus – the one with the tight little body, the angelic face, and the fierce attitude – to the night she abandoned me in Miami. It was the sum of those moments that changed me irrevocably.
Our story isn’t over. I won’t let it be. But this, this is what happened so far, the way I saw it.
I’m Cap. Or Sam, to Rory. And this is my story.
***I received this ebook as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author.
From the first page of this series, I’ve been hooked. I love everything about Rory and Sam, their complex relationship, the past trauma, how they heal each other’s wounds and see how strong they truly are just by being loved. It’s beautiful, uplifting, heartbreaking, everything you could ever want in a story and so so so important. The Something More series deals with crucial issues that are not voiced enough, that people look away from rather than take action against like domestic abuse and rape. In many ways, when we do hear these stories, they’re from one side, or maybe two, the victim and the attacker, but what about the people who are there after, those who love and cherish those who have been hurt so deeply? ReCap is that other story. The powerful and life-changing POV of those who fall madly in love with someone who has been abused and the everyday struggles that come up.
Sam is…I mean, he’s amazing. That word somehow seems less. Sam is empathetic, strong, fierce, protective, and soul-crushingly, swoon-inducing, devoted to Rory. He sees her scars and worships at the altar of her strength. Rory is something holy and angelic to him. No matter how broken she sees herself, she’s the epitome of perfect to Sam because she has overcome so much.
It’s intense reading Sam’s emotions as he watches Rory fight for control of her PTSD. The thoughts that race through his mind, his struggle to understand, and the way he beats himself up when he makes mistakes are incredibly raw and honest. The fine line between treating her like she’s fragile and comforting her is hard to master and Sam makes tons of mistakes.
It’s all the things you don’t think about that are brought to your attention in this book. The way we take things for granted, like casual touching, or grabbing someone when you want to get their attention. It’s eye-opening to witness how things we brush off can trigger someone who has been through trauma.
How Sam sees Rory. It’s like seeing the sun for the first time. That bright, almost startling brightness, the magic of its beauty, the way it warms and occasionally burns, but brings so much comfort. That is what Sam feels every time he looks at Rory, like he’s awake for the first time. The emotions are off the charts, almost too much. I might be a little in love with Sam.
After the horrors she’s survived over the past year, Rory never expected to find the one thing she certainly wasn’t looking for – love. But after the painful realization that her past has left her a dangerous liability to the person she cares for the most, she finally understands that for her and Sam, love means letting go.
Can two people hopelessly in love with one another ever revert back into just friends? Neither Rory nor Sam know for sure. But the one thing they do know – it’s the only choice they have.
As Rory recovers from a devastating assault, Sam will do anything to make sure it never happens again. But how far will he go to keep her safe? Their choices will change everything, and they will either bring them back together, or destroy them irrevocably.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author.
+++A few words about genre and context: Okay can be classified as Mature YA or early New Adult. In both cases it is a drama, romance, and contemporary. It does contain mature themes that are better suited for older YA so 18ish+. The content deals with issues of domestic and sexual abuse.Contains triggers.
It’s taken me a while to write this review not because I was busy or lazy but because I had so much to say and this review was harder to write than others. When I first read NORMAL, I was absolutely stunned and impressed with Danielle Pearl’s voice. The way she captured the anxiety, the terror, and just how debilitating living with PTSD is on a daily basis was precise, accurate and showcased a substantial amount of research and understanding. Generally when people think of PTSD, I think they assume soldiers. PTSD has many faces and many levels of distress. Danielle Pearl does an amazing job informing the reader of the little things, the tiny day-to-day activities that those who do not suffer from PTSD don’t think about and sheds light on the strength it takes to endure when anxiety and memory strike. OKAY is a continuation of Rory and Sam’s romance and hones in more on self acceptance, learning to love in the face of a traumatic series of sexual abuse, and discovering that no matter how dark and horrendous the past can be, hope is as resilient as the human spirit.
I appreciate so many things about what Danielle Pearl has done with this series: her endeavour to write about sexual assault from a gray area, to address ignorant assumptions about sexual violence and whether or not it can be okay. It’s never okay and no girl is “asking for it” despite what she wears or how beautiful she is. I think it’s crucial to address this mentality that is somehow drilled into people from a young age. The idea of dressing promiscuously as a gateway or okay for sexual assault. Where did this concept come from? Asking for it? The guilt, the questioning, the deliberation that women have to go through before throwing on clothes. Every aspect of care and thought so that she not look too tempting, that she not tease the men with too much cleavage or leg because they have no restraint. How is that acceptable or okay? OKAY made me question how I view sexual assault and the grounds on which abuse is determined. The argument that short skirts and flirting is justification is weak at best but even Rory questioned whether she was at fault, if she was indeed asking for it? How many girls go through this after assault? How many don’t report it because they believe they did something wrong? Danielle Pearl asks hard questions that we as humans need to address and ask more of.
Rory’s insecurities are real and relatable. Having never been in a non-abusive relationship, she doesn’t know what is expected or how she should behave, she also doesn’t feel worthy of love and it is devastating. Rory’s emotions are a chaotic mess of longing and memory, she’s haunted and doesn’t know if she’s capable of love after her abuse. Sometimes Rory makes decisions and interprets things in ways that seem foreign or strange to me but Danielle Pearl clearly outlines Rory’s thought process so that you see where she’s coming from. Rory is terrified of a future where she’s have to open her heart and share her body and because of this fear she pushes Sam away. I think what makes Rory so compelling is that she’s a survivor. It’s not that she’s super confident or smart, she’s not perfect, she’s scarred and weighed down by her past but she’s REAL. Her beauty shines through her brokeness and though occasionally emotionally fragile because of her PTSD she has a lot of fight in her when she lets it show.
Secondary relationships became a major plot element this time around. In the first book, one of my critiques was that friendships were almost an afterthought. In OKAY relationships between the main characters and their parents and the protagonists and their friends were complex and grew as the story progressed. Sam’s relationship with his father was gripping. All of Sam’s animosity, his violence and anger stems from his horrendous feelings towards his father. The therapeutic interactions between them allowed for Sam to understand, to open his mind, and forgive, not fully but he’s on his way.
Sam’s feelings for Rory are transcendent, pure, heavenly. You feel every ounce of his attraction and respect towards her. From the way she looks, to her tiny mannerisms, and even when she’s throwing him off, he knows when to give her space. Sam’s anger is explosive, deep-seeded, and volatile, but the memory of his father’s actions ground him. Knowing that he is just as vulnerable and attached as Rory added another level to their relationship.
The romantic scenes between Sam and Rory are molten hot bouts of ecstasy and carnal heat one moment and perfect love and mutual understanding the next. They care about each other’s happiness and that attentiveness intensifies their already steamy romance.
The off and on, push and shove of Sam and Rory’s romance/friendship was infuriating. I understood Rory’s interpretation but I couldn’t get past the fact that out of everything Sam had done for her, the adoration and comfort he had shown her that she would believe she was better off without him or that he didn’t love her. It just didn’t make sense.
Danielle Pearl is the Amazon and iBooks best-selling author of the Something More series. She lives in New Jersey with her three delicious children and ever-supportive husband, who–luckily–doesn’t mind sharing her with an array of fictional men. She did a brief stint at Boston University and worked in marketing before publishing her debut novel, Normal. She writes mature Young Adult and New Adult Contemporary Romance. Danielle enjoys coffee, wine, and cupcakes, and not in moderation.
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