Photo from @beautifulbookland on Instagram
Rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
So, this book is marketed for fans of The Fault in Our Stars, which is obviously a devastating book, so I have no idea why I managed to talk myself into believing that Differently Normal would have a warm and fuzzy ending. I was warned (it literally says on the front that it isn’t love unless it breaks your heart), but I’m clearly just a fool.
This is my first novel by Tammy Robinson, and it’s safe to say that I’m impressed. A book about a girl with an autistic sister and a boy with an abusive family should not be funny, but Tammy manages to make it so. She also manages to deal with the subject of autism gently, because while Maddy’s sister, Bee, does funny things, there were never times where the characters laughed at her in a malicious way, making her the butt of their jokes. Bee is loved and treated like the person that she is.
Differently Normal is told in alternating POVs, following Maddy as she works to provide full time care to Bee, and Albert as he tries to steer clear of his dad and work to make enough money as he can so he can leave town. They meet at the stables where Albert works, and their relationship grows, despite Maddy’s initial reluctance to be involved in a relationship.
Maddy is such a strong, beautiful character. I absolutely adored her relationship with Bee; it didn’t matter that Bee couldn’t have a proper conversation with her sister, Maddy loved her unconditionally. I imagine that having a sick sibling could be a stress upon any child or teenager, having to constantly be second to their sibling, who needs the most attention. But Maddy is so grown up; she knows that none of this is down to Bee, knows that her limited life opportunities are not Bee’s fault. There’s literally only one time in the book that Maddy snaps at Bee, and she apologised immediately, despite Bee not even knowing anything was wrong.
Albert is also a brilliant character; he’s funny and caring and understanding of Maddy’s difficult home life, despite not having the most stable family himself. I was hoping throughout the book that he would finally feel able to stand up to his dad and his older brother.
Sometimes, when an author tackles an illness in a book, it feels like they literally just list signs and symptoms they find on Google, but it definitely didn’t feel like that with this book. While I’m not an expert on autism, I did spent quite a few months with a severely autistic boy in hospital, and Tammy’s handling of the subject is very well done. Everything from inappropriate public behaviour (at one point, Bee smacks a receptionist on the bum) to wearing headphones and imitating people’s sayings (the boy I was in hospital with would regularly adopt sayings – even other patient’s “get off me!” cries whilst being restrained) were all done well and all added well to Bee’s character, instead of just being put in for the sake of it.
While I am a firm believer in happy endings (life is rubbish enough sometimes without books adding to my misery), I’m still incredibly pleased that I read this book. Sometimes when I read a book with a sad ending, I wish that I’d never read it (looking at you, Allegiant) and it ruins the whole book/series for me, but that wasn’t the case for Differently Normal. It’s a heartbreaking book, but also a beautiful one.
(But I can still only give it four stars instead of five because it made me ugly cry.)
*Thank you so much to Little, Brown Book Group for sending me an ARC*
You can add Differently Normal on Goodreads here
You can also buy it on Amazon UK here (7th June 2018)