I really enjoyed the first book in Holly Bourne’s Normal series (Am I Normal Yet?) and was obviously ecstatic when I realised the sequel/ companion novel wasn’t far off publication. This second book follows Amber, Evie’s friend from Book #1, as she travels to America for a summer with her estranged mother, on the condition she works at the summer camp her mum – and mum’s new partner Kevin – run for rich American children.
I really enjoyed this revisit to the Spinster Club – while Evie and Lottie may only have been there over occasional Skype calls, I enjoyed having that friendship kept present. At the same time, I feel this is more of a companion novel than a sequel – it would be entirely possible to read this book with no knowledge of Am I Normal Yet and get plenty out of it, only missing perhaps some very minimal references, most of which were made explicit anyway – I may have sometimes thought Bourne was slightly labouring the point that Evie Is Getting Better Now.
Lets put that to one side though, because it’s pretty much the only thing in this book which bothered me. It’s all a very happy romp through teenagerdom and a really touching look at the parent-child relationship in several different forms. Amber’s dad is only really physically present at the very opening of the book, but her affection for him comes through beautifully through the rest of the book, and the complexity of their relationship. I was really touched by how Amber appreciated certain things about her dad more from further away – away from the distractions of her stepmother and stepbrother.
However, Amber’s relationship with her mother is the major theme of the book, whom she hasn’t seen for two years. The story deals largely with the conflict between who her mother actually is, is capable of being, and who Amber wants her to be. I found it really heart wrenching and felt massively for both characters – Bourne manages to make sure that neither was unimpeachably in the right or wrong when conflict surfaces, and to believably navigate the realities of a rocky relationship, touching on the humanity of parents alongside the superhuman expectations children have of them, and the responsibility parents bear their offspring.
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The relationships in this book were what made it so worth reading for me. I admit – I sort of wish that the conclusion of the plot could have stayed focused on more of Amber’s relationships than just about her relationship with Kyle. That relationship is lovely, and totally worth reading for, because what about first love isn’t charming? But equally, a lot of the wonderful character dynamics Bourne spends the whole book building got very little further development past a certain point.
I will certainly be reading again whenever Bourne gives us a Spinster Club book number three – here’s hoping this time we’re on a journey with Lottie. Personally, I’m even hoping Book Four might be dedicated to Whinnie.