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Book Review: “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

As a little birthday present to myself, I went out with a couple of my close friends to one of my favorite places: Barnes and Noble. I didn’t spend too much of my own money, but I did need to use up some gift cards people had gotten me, so why not do it all in one day? With these gift cards, I got a mix of books I have never heard of, and some I had known are very popular currently. One of the more “prominent” books I got was Sally Rooney’s Normal People. 

I’ll say up front that I gave this book 3.5 stars out of 5. This isn’t to say that the book was bad by any means—I enjoyed it quite a bit. As the title suggests, Normal People is about two very average individuals; Marianne and Connell. It follows them from their senior year of high school to their senior year of college – navigating relationships, mental illness and everyday stressors. Normal People shows two very messy, confused people, but it’s realistic. It isn’t like there’s something absurd happening every chapter, which is honestly really nice. It’s a realistic portrayal of how emotional humans can be, which I did enjoy a lot. 

Like I said, I didn’t hate this book. It felt very average to me. The writing style was interesting and well-executed, the characters were messy but easy to engage with. Although there wasn’t really a solidified plot, it was still easy to follow what was going on. The chapter titles told you when the content was taking place, and each one alternated a third person perspective from Marianne to Connell. It was nice to see what each of them thought in a given situation. With how realistic the book was, it could feel a bit boring at times, which I think was the “downfall” for me. It was a quick read, but there were certain parts that felt just a bit over explained. The book also takes place in Ireland, so for someone like me who doesn’t know some terms or slang used there, I could get confused as to what the characters were referring to at times. This wasn’t something that took down the enjoyment level of the book for me, though. It just meant I had to do more research than I usually do, which is honestly a good thing. It was nice to have to really focus on what I was reading.

Focusing specifically on Marianne and Connell, I personally preferred reading Connell’s chapters. He was definitely less likable in the terms of his actions, but what he did throughout the book was more compelling to me. Marianne was still a very well-rounded character, and her personal life was significantly more interesting than Connell’s. It may have just been how Rooney wrote them out, but I felt more engaged when Connell was on the page.

One of the most interesting parts of this book that kept me engaged was the way Rooney went about using dialogue. In Normal People, there are no quotation marks. From what I remember, they were only used once throughout the entire novel, despite there being dialogue on nearly every page. I really had to focus on what was written and it kept me more focused on the pages than I expected. It could be kind of confusing at times, but I enjoyed the setup a lot as I got used to it.

The story itself was written well, but there were times I wished there was a more note-worthy plotline to follow. It wasn’t exactly messy without the firm plot, but it definitely left me wanting more as I finished the book. We follow Marianne and Connell’s relationship over four years, but we never really get to see their thoughts on each other when they aren’t interacting, or what situations pushed them together and pulled them apart. There were a lot of mentions of situations in passing, but these events were rarely described in the book. I just wish there was a little bit more to guide the reader along.I didn’t necessarily believe Normal People was as groundbreaking as some readers made it out to be, but I did still really enjoy it. It was by no means my favorite book from 2021, but I’m definitely not upset that I picked it up. It was a quick read in comparison to some other books I’ve read this year, and it was a nice way to escape for a little while. Normal People was nice in the sense that it let me focus on someone else’s life and conflicts for a while, even if it is fictional. I enjoyed reading Rooney’s work, but I’m not too sure I’ll be reaching for more any time soon.

Tessa is a sophomore journalism and theater double major at SUNY Oswego. They love reading, hanging out with friends, and crocheting in their free time. They also adore theatre, and are hoping to get more engaged with the art as they go through college.
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