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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Redefining Normal by Paul Nankivell is a coming of age historical fiction novel about a baby named Alan Jones who has a stroke as an infant and, against the firm advice given by respected medical staff at the hospital, his mother makes the decision to raise him at home rather than institutionalize him. The decision turns out to be correct. Alan is quickly recognized as he transitions into childhood that, despite his physical limitations, his intellect pushes him into a percentile soaring above and beyond average. Unfortunately, as the years tick away, Alan is consistently misjudged and wholly underestimated, forced to fight against generational prejudices, and become one of only a handful of pioneers to level the playing field for disabled students. Through grit, perseverance, and a selective, caring support system, Alan is able to lead the way in diminishing discrimination and obtaining the education and respect he has earned.
Redefining Normal has more than just a small basis on author Paul Nankivell's own life. While the writing is simple and straightforward, there is an underlying thread of tension that weaves through each page, fuelled by a persistent feeling of frustration. It takes time and work for Alan to hit physical milestones, including clear speech and mobility with the assistance of a powered wheelchair, among other things. As a reader being guided with a direct point of view, the scenes that play out are often infuriating. There is one in particular that highlights the micro-aggression of a teacher named Ms. Simmons following the death of a young classmate. Her reaction to Alan making a point of one student's death being overlooked while another's isn't is met with unguarded condescension and an implication that Alan should pipe down and just be grateful he is allowed at the school at all. This is a really good book that shows how far as a society we have come, but how far away we still are as the advocacy and fight for rights continues. I can't imagine anyone not finding this book to be engrossing and eye-opening.