My current favorite book is Normal People by Sally Rooney and yes, I’d say it’s the worst love story ever. And you should go read it.
Relationships can suck. And not just romantic ones; platonic and family relationships get messy too, in complex ways that can be difficult to explain. Yet even though these relationships are imperfect, they still have meaning and love and values wrapped all around them, and it’s authentic! I adore Normal People so much because it acknowledges those imperfections, miscommunications and pain. It’s the closest example of how “right person, wrong time” feels (the most heart-wrenching troupe ever) and brings the readers along for the journey.
(NOTE: There’s a TV adaptation on Hulu, but for this article, I am only referring to the book. I loved the show! However, if I didn’t read the book first, I wouldn’t have understood the individual characters and their relationship as well. Plus, with this story especially, there are so many minuscule thoughts, moments and quotes that are impossible to show onscreen. Read the book first. I strongly recommend watching, though! )
Normal People by Sally Rooney is an episodic tale told about two teenagers who, on paper, couldn’t be more opposite. Connell Waldron, a beloved soccer player, constantly craves social acceptance, while Marianne Sheridan tends to keep to herself and has never cared what people thought of her. The novel begins with the cliché trope of the popular-athlete-boy and the loner-school-girl, but because this novel follows a four-year time span that is longer than most stories, the readers are taken on a journey of extreme character development.
Truthfully, it’s a story about the beautiful intricacies of how humans help shape each other in a unique way that ditches the usual path that is taken when it comes to love interests in novels. In most stories, the protagonist overcomes some big challenge in their life and it’s not until the end that they finally unite with the lover. In Normal People, Marianne and Connell’s timeline plays out so that they get with each other first, and then each of their conflicts begins to play out which drives the plot forward.
“He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile, his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can change one another.” – Normal People, Sally Rooney
Growing up, Rooney’s parents taught her “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” as sort of a universal rule, and she lets those core values shine through into her work. Marianne and Connell fit the textbook definition of “right person, wrong time”—nothing between them ever seems to line up just right. Yet, they still persevered over the four-year timeline that we follow and created a beautiful love story.
Sally Rooney’s writing is dripping in detail. It’s easy to understand why people fall so deeply in love with this book: by the time you reach the end of it, you really feel connected to this couple and the intimate journey that they’ve had. Normal People does a great job at highlighting the intricacies of what love can feel like, but that’s just not everyone’s cup of tea. This story is extremely character-driven, rather than plot-driven!
“They’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.” – Normal People, Sally Rooney
My favorite book tells the story of a very imperfect love story. There’s no boombox out the window or a kissing scene in the rain. But, there are two people that always find their way back to each other. And I think any love as strong as that is worth reading about a hundred times over. Just like the title of the book says, Marianne and Connell are normal people who struggle with normal people things, but above all else, they are just normal people with the desire to love and to be loved.