Practicing Normal

Practicing Normal
Cara Sue Achterburg
Story Plant, 2017

The Turner family lives in the Pines Estates neighborhood, surrounded by huge houses occupied by picture perfect families – exactly what Kate would love for her family to be. But dysfunctional would be a gentle way to describe their family dynamics. Kate used to be a nurse, but now caring for her aging mother and her son, JT, who has Aspergers is her full time job. Her husband, Everett, is less than understanding about the time and effort she dedicates to these pursuits, and their marriage is becoming increasingly strained. Teenage daughter Jenna does as she pleases, working her way around the security systems she helped her father install and making herself at home in empty neighborhood houses when she should be in school.

But it seems life is about to change. Jenna finds herself falling for a guy she never thought she had anything in common with and finds a friend in an older neighbor who takes in interest in her family. Kate begins to suspect that Everett may have a secret, but puts off dealing with it as her mother’s health worsens. To make matters worse, Kate’s sister has located the father that left before they can remember and insists that Kate meet him and listen to his side of the story – something that distresses her mother greatly. But all secrets eventually become known, new relationships are formed, and old, harmful ones left behind, so that healing can finally begin.

This book was provided to me by the author free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links. Read more about that here.

If ever there was a book about family dysfunction, this one takes the cake. The relationships between each family member are complicated, to say the least, which lends itself to plenty of ongoing tension and conflict. Kate and Everett have a strained relationship because he had an affair in the past and she is struggling to trust him with the suspicious behavior he is exhibiting. Additionally, they don’t agree about JT at all. Everett has no concept of how much of JT’s behavior is the result of his Aspergers and insists that if Kate would stop babying him he would get better. Let me just interrupt myself right here and state that Everett is an intensely dislikable character, and his selfishness and abusive nature just become more and more apparent as the book progresses.

Kate’s character is easier to root for, but I did get frustrated with her for sticking her head in the sand for so long in a couple of areas. But she does learn and grow as she makes some new friends and she is likable for truly wanting what is best for her family, even at the sacrifice of her own health and happiness. Jenna was another favorite. She is the quintessential misunderstood teen on the path to delinquency. She is very perceptive and few people seem to understand how smart she actually is because she often gets overlooked. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so JT gets a lot of necessary attention. JT’s character was interesting, too. I haven’t read hardly any books with characters on the autism spectrum. I’m not sure if that is because they are underrepresented or because I just don’t frequent genres that would contain those characters, but whatever the reason I enjoyed that look into how he thinks and the talents and struggles he brings to the table.

I also liked that the Pine Estates neighborhood almost took on a life of its own and became a character because so much of the story takes place in the neighborhood among the people that live there. Jenna breaks into houses all up and down the street and several of the neighbors play roles in the progression of the story or in the back story for the Turners.

I do have to offer my language disclaimer in a big way for this book. There is a lot of cursing, and I also had an issue with some intimate descriptions that I thought could have been dealt with more delicately or preferably even left out. I realize that that is a personal opinion, but I always like to put that out there so that no one is offended by any reading material they saw on my blog. Despite that criticism, I genuinely enjoyed the multifaceted characters and the real, honest feel that came from them having to deal with each other and all their baggage. It was well-written and the dialogue felt realistic and unforced. Overall, I would probably rate it a 3.5 out of 5.

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