Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: A Different Kind of Normal by Cathy Lamb

A family descended from witches (at least according to some family members), a curse that manifests itself in each generation, and just plain quirky characters, Cathy Lamb's newest novel has all of this and more. Jaden Bruxelle is a dedicated hospice nurse and an overprotective mother. She adopted her drug addicted sister's baby when he was only a couple of days old and has been protecting Tate ever since. Tate was born with a much larger than normal sized head and misaligned eyes and his appearance has subjected him to a lifetime of bullying and nasty name calling. A genius, he feels that he could endure the taunts and the ugliness if only he was allowed to try out for the basketball team, having devoted countless hours to practicing against his own backboard. But because of his enlarged head and the shunt he had to have placed to drain extra fluid, Boss Mom Jaden refuses to entertain the idea of him playing and risking injury. Her fears for Tate not only prevent him from trying something he loves but they cripple her as well. She's unwilling to pursue a very strong mutual attraction with Tate's doctor Ethan because if she did, ethically he would no longer be able to keep Tate as his patient and she can't risk not having the top doctor available for her boy.

Fear reigns over courage for Jaden even though it causes Tate great unhappiness and definitely cools their otherwise incredibly close relationship. She knows that she will eventually have to let him live the life he chooses but she's terrified to give him that chance, to give herself that chance as well. While Jaden wrestles with her unmovable decisions, Tate starts an anonymous blog talking about the reality of being him, the kid with the big head, the one people call a monster or a freak. He is completely honest in his entries giving the reader insight into his opinion of his mother's inability to let him be normal in the one way that means the most to him and about the ways in which he sees the world.

While Tate and Jaden argue back and forth about the merits of letting him at least try out for the team, there are quite a few other plot lines weaving through the novel and downright odd characters peopling the pages. There's Jaden's sister and Tate's biological mother, Brooke, a drug addict who abandoned her baby and is threatening to reappear in her family's life, shaky and trying to stay sober; Jaden and Brooke's mother, a famous soap opera actress, flits in and out of the story; and Jaden's brother is a single dad to a little girl with one leg, adopted from India, and to three of the oddest children (triplets to boot) ever created, a retired pro-wrestler, and now a florist who lives just down the street from his uber-competent, tightly buttoned up and clearly repressed sister. Jaden is facing a lawsuit brought against her by the sleazebag son of one of her deceased patients, her back and forth footsy game with the hot doctor continues for much of the novel, and the historical background on the family ancestors and their reputation as witches weaves through the narrative as do Jaden's memories of Brooke's growing addiction. So very much going on between these pages.

While the book certainly has some touching moments and explores some important themes, it comes across as altogether too quirky and overloaded with too many major and minor plot lines. Learning to let go is certainly hard and for Jaden it is complicated by Tate's scary medical history but he's seventeen and she continues to hover over him as if he's a toddler. The fact that she likes to go to the greenhouse and mix up herbal combinations, all of which smell of death and forewarn her of a loved one's imminent demise is a bit heavy handed given all the other foreshadowing in the novel. Many of the oddball characters here are too one dimensional to be believable.  Tate himself is quite obviously the most wonderful teeenaged boy ever. His small sulky moments just reinforce how unrealistic he really is at all other times. And there are bits that just don't add up about Jaden's concern. She is too terrified of the potentials to let Tate try out for the basketball team and yet the kid has been regularly beaten up throughout his life. The fighting is apparently less likely to dislodge his shunt than playing basketball is.

I wanted to like this one so much more than I did. It just went too far over the top for me and didn't reel itself back in with particularly realistic characters. The celebration of oddity and left of normal (by choice or by accident of birth) was fine but to have each and every character have to highlight the fact that our definition of normal is too narrow and reductive was less than subtle and didn't trust readers to get it without handing it to them on a platter. What should have been a warm and quirky read instead descended into predictable and cliched for me and left me disappointed.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I do like this author, but haven't read this one yet. Thanks for sharing your take on it. I'll still read it:)


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