BY CARA SUE ACHTERBERG
PUBLICATION: FICTION STUDIO BOOKS; MAY 31, 2017
About the book: The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.
The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.
And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.
Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.
I love Cara Sue Achterberg – mom, foster mom to pups, writer, wife, and on and on. She’s such an extraordinary person which makes it even better to bring you my review of this incredible new novel, Practicing Normal.
This may aggravate some, but occasionally I need to do bullet points with characters, it’s the only way for me to get organized!
- Kate: wife to Everett, mom to Jenna and J.T., spends most of her day caring for her elderly mother Mildred who lives up the street, used to be an ER nurse
- Everett: husband to Kate, Dad to Jenna and J.T., was a cop but now works for a security firm, cheater
- Jenna: oldest child of Kate and Everett, hates her father, a loner, frequently skips school, very smart, breaks into people’s homes just to hang out
- J.T.: Kate and Everett’s son, has Aspergers, fixations include watching E.R. and shows about emergency situations (fire, police, medical)
- Mildred: Kate’s mother, hates Everett, obsessed with and talks to her birds in her backyard
- Cassie: lives on their street, has several cats, hospice nurse
- Wells: cute boy on the street 🙂
- Evelyn: Kate’s sister and Mildred’s daughter; divorced, successful lawyer
There are so many more important characters but this will prevent me from having to explain everyone repeatedly! Everett and Kate live on the “rich end of the street” in Pine Estates, although they aren’t really wealthy. Kate’s mother lives a few blocks away, luckily since Kate is there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to check on her mom. Everett has cheated on Kate before but she decided to forgive him and move on because “they are so in love.” Jenna is a somewhat angry teenager, especially since she is aware of her Dad’s previous and current indiscretions, but begins to open up after meeting and becoming close to Wells and her neighbor Cassie. J.T. is brilliant and also has Aspergers, making him prone to outbursts when his routine is changed. Everett is constantly frustrated with both children. This novel moves along with their day-to-day life as they navigate through jobs, taking care of Mildred, things going on with the children, and occasional socializing with neighbors. On top of that, Kate’s sister Evelyn wants to put their mother in a nursing home and is obsessed with suddenly hearing from their father that walked out many years ago.
Practicing Normal is an amazing look at a somewhat messed up family trying to feel and appear “normal.” Throughout this novel, Kate faces something new every day whether it’s the fact that Everett is ‘working” such long hours, problems with the kids, or ongoing struggles with her mother and sister. The woman is literally a super-hero. There are so many instances in this novel where I felt that if I were in the same situation I would have curled up and sucked my thumb. This is such an honest look at family dynamics and changes that everyone goes through whether young or old. I realized after finishing this novel that the things I thought were going to blow up or go bad didn’t, and the things that I thought would be o.k., did not end up that way. Although so much of this story was very relatable, there were still several twists and turns that were completely unexpected.
Achterberg’s writing style is once again flawless and I was immediately swept up into this story and all of the characters in it. And I can honestly say that even if certain characters did things that were disappointing or even infuriating, she wrote this in a way that I could still see each character’s point of view and find someway to still empathize or sympathize with their situation. This novel would speak to so many audiences whether a wronged spouse, a man/woman that feels out of place in a pretentious neighborhood, someone that has cared for an aging parent, someone with teenagers, someone with a child diagnosed has having Aspergers, and I could go on and on. Practicing Normal has left me with the feeling that whatever my normal is or your normal is, that it’s o.k. and I we will survive it!
*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.