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We Are Totally Normal Hardcover – March 31, 2020
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"We Are Totally Normal downplays its literary sensibility with lighthearted humor and smart, bantering dialog. This book is a great choice for readers interested in LGBTQ+ and QPOC romance and post-Millennial coming-of-age stories." (them.us)
"With its fast, dialogue-driven pacing, humor, and finger on the youthful pulse, this book will find an eager audience in queer and questioning teens, especially those of color." (Booklist)
"[We Are Totally Normal's] strength lies in the normalization of negotiating the complex social structure of teenage friendships and relationships." (Kirkus Reviews)
"This is not a typical coming-out narrative.... The most interesting parts of the book deal with Nandan’s conflicted feelings about masculinity and gendered friendships, as he struggles to understand the power dynamics among his male friends and longs for close platonic friendships with girls." (School Library Journal)
"This story could be what a reader out there needs." (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA))
"Told through the eyes of one of the most endearing and real characters I’ve ever met, We Are Totally Normal is validating, entertaining, and filled with love." (Kacen Callender, Stonewall award-winning author of This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story)
“Nandan’s fresh perspective is a gift―I can’t wait for readers to experience it!” (M-E Girard, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Girl Mans Up)
“A brilliant coming-of-age story. Every teen needs this book.” (Julian Winters, award-winning author of Running With Lions)
“An endearing, messy, and honest exploration of identity that reminds us that discovering who we aren’t is as important as discovering who we are.” (Shaun David Hutchinson, author of We Are the Ants and Brave Face)
About the Author
Rahul Kanakia's novels include We Are Totally Normal and Enter Title Here. Additionally, Rahul's stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Indiana Review, and Nature. Rahul has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Lambda Literary Foundation. Originally from Washington, DC, Rahul now lives in San Francisco.
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Plot: Nandan hangs out with the 99% - the rich kids. It's partying at the beach at night, getting wasted, casual sex, and bro relationships. His ex girlfriend is perfect - rich and beautiful and all the guys want her. So does Nandan again, even though he was fine with the break up. Oh, and he's really friendly with nerdy Dave who isn't one of the group - so he helps Dave get hooked up with Mari. Then some sexual exploration happens, Nandan decides being gay might get him more attention and cement his friendship with his Ex's friends, and make him cooler at school. Funny thing is, Dave doesn't feel that way, even though Dave keeps telling Nandan he is straight. Lots of confusion ensues.
I think for me, having grown up in California, I remember these types as the ones I disliked greatly when I was in high school. They are wealthy, aimless, get wasted all the time, and work hard to annoy others out of boredom. It's the laid back Santa Cruz milieu where life lives you - you don't live it. Nandan as a character is the kind of guy everyone wants to be friends with because he doesn't have a strong opinion, doesn't cause waves, and is just an amiable but dumb 'surfer' kind of guy. He spends most of the time idolizing his ex-girlfriend while also deciding that being gay will get him closer to her. At the same time, he admits he relationship with her sucked. Most of the book is about Nandan and how he relates to his friends, not about the relationship with Dave (such as it is). Those expecting a sweet romance won't find it here.
There are some key lines in the book that I think capture the ideas well. This first one is Nandan talking about Dave's studiousness: "I didn't understand people like him, who cared about things other than who was friends with whom, and who was in and who was out, and, essentially, who was popular." I think that sums up Nandan's character in the book very well.
And then there is this line, which to me is the theme of the book: Nandan says: "I don't want to be myself anymore," I said. "I want to be different. And this coming-out thing is a way to do it." To which Dave answers: "See, most people would say: I want to be my real self." The blurb makes this book sound like Nandan is conflicted about dating Dave because it would mean admitting he was bi or gay; however, everyone celebrates (even his parents and their parents) that he has come out as gay and everything gets easy for him. So the only person who has a problem with the idea of being gay is Nandan - and not because he doesn't want to be gay but rather he still wants to hook up with ex girlfriend Avani through most of the book. It means Dave gets shafted and treated like crap for most of the book while Nandan figures things out.
The ending is hugely abrupt and seems to come out of left field as Nandan makes a choice. But by then, you have to wonder what Dave saw in him or why Dave put up with being treated that bad (almost masochistic in tone). By then, I was on autopilot reading, wanting to end the torture of reading about stupid people doing stupid things and crapping on each other because they were bored. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.
Nandan, the protagonist and narrator, while trying to climb the social ladder at his high school (he especially wants to be friends with the most popular girls) stumbles into an affair with cute, shy Dave, who doesn't say much at parties and wears a bow tie. But is he really into Dave? What does being into somebody even mean? Nandan's internal conflict will be familiar to anyone who's ever tried to figure out who they should be with--or who has thought there's something wrong with them for not feeling the way they "should."
If you're a little tired of love stories that make you feel bad because real life doesn't go so smoothly, I can't recommend this book highly enough. You'll recognize personality types you went to high school with. You'll roll your eyes and cringe at the kids' attempts to impress each other and seem too cool for anything. You might even, when reading some of the most uncomfortable parts, acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about yourself. Plus it's an absolute blast to read and you'll race to the end. Pick it up!