4 out of 4 stars
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"Families are like fudge - mostly sweet, with a few nuts." (Dawson,n.d.).
Looking for Normal by Karen Harmon is a labor of love written as a tribute to her family. It starts in the 1920s following her parents Vince and Frances before they meet. Young Vince is still grieving the loss of his mother who left when he was five. The relationship is turbulent between him and his alcoholic father. Vince has grown tired of being the object of his father's rage, so he decides to leave his home in Saskatchewan in hopes of starting a new life in British Columbia. Meanwhile, Frances decides she has had enough of living with the manic mood swings of her mother and sister, who are battling mental illnesses. She leaves her little town of Taber, Alberta in search of a new beginning.
Looking for Normal is a story about family, love, and self-identity. Karen Harmon shares how her parents started from the bottom and worked hard to make a better life for themselves. The second half of the story is based on events from Karen's childhood. Going to work with her dad, playing with friends in the neighborhood, and going on family camping trips are cherished memories that are included in the book. She also explores her relationships with various family members and the role she played as the youngest of four children.
Karen did an excellent job of describing the unstable relationship between Frances and her mother. Frances's mother Edith was thought to have suffered from an undiagnosed borderline personality disorder which negatively impacted the mother-daughter bond. France's feelings towards her mother were clearly stated at the beginning of the book. The book says: "Frances hated her mother. She was taught by the nuns that it was not "Biblical" to hate. So, she decided to leave her mother and the Catholic Church, all in one fell swoop. Both forces in her life had deceived and criticised her."
A unique aspect of the book was the bits of information that Karen provided about British Columbia. A footnote was written at the bottom of relevant pages to educate the reader about various historical landmarks. There were quite a few pictures of train stations and railways. One of my favorites was a picture entitled "Riding the Rails," which showed a train with people hanging onto various parts and some even on the roof! Readers were also educated about some of the favorite local spots such as Stanley Park and the Aristrocat on Granville Street.
Karen also included a selection of poems and songs that were relevant at the time. I particularly enjoyed reading the lyrics from Evelyn Knight's song "Dance With a Dolly." Karen recounts dancing and being spun around by her father while it played in the background. Karen included an array of photographs that chronicled her family through several decades, which made me feel connected to the characters. By the end of the book, I felt as though I knew each family member on a personal level.
One of the things that I loved about Looking for Normal was reading about the strong bond between Karen and her father, Vince. Experiencing being abandoned as a child, I think Vince wanted to do everything in his power to make sure his kids knew how much they were loved. Karen shared special moments that she experienced with her father, including riding in the bulldozer together, dancing to their favorite song and sharing a whole lot of laughter.
There wasn't anything I didn't like about Looking for Normal. It was impeccably written and I am delighted to share that I did not find any spelling errors. I chose to give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars because it has all the elements that make up an incredible story, including romance, humor, and strong character development. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical non-fiction and books about family, particularly dysfunctional families. The language is clean and wholesome. The only part that may offend readers is the author's description of psychosis and manic episodes.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading and reviewing Looking for Normal, and I think the author's family will cherish the memories captured in the book.
Looking for Normal
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