“I was just an empty, useless, shallow thing who did nothing more than reflect the brightness of the much more interesting people all around me.”
As a member of The 99 in high school, Nandan is popular. He goes to every cool party in the city and dated one of the most popular girls in school. Then comes the nerd Dave. A one night hook up and everything changes. Social hierarchy in school is important, and Nandan is determined to use this new fame of coming out as a way to climb up the ladder.
Fluid identity, power dynamics in high school, and an ugly and awkward but real side of a relationship. All of these are explored in this unique YA novel by Rahul Kanakia.
“We are Totally Normal” is the story of Indian American teen Nandan, one who belongs to the popular crowd in high school. But one night after a party, he hooks up with a nerd named Dave. Its central focus is on how he will navigate his junior year after coming out to his friends. This is a different type of YA novel that I’ve ever read. Most of them revolve around a high school setting but Nandan’s story is set around parties where the battle for power among high schoolers occurs in plain sight. The book shines when the readers are taken to the thoughts of Nandan, his confusion and musings about the social hierarchy in school, and where he belongs to the sphere of things.
What makes “We are Totally Normal” so much authentic and unique is the way it tackles teenage relationship. Most YA novels talk about that handsome face of the leading guy, the taste of mint on his breath, those sort of stuff. Kanakia here did not shy away on the truth of hooking up, how it is gross most of the time. It is not always rainbows and butterflies. This is high school and Nandan’s relationship with Dave is the most real story among countless YA novels I’ve come across.
And so here comes the problem, not just with Nandan, but with the other characters as well. To put it bluntly, Nandan is a self-centered asshole. And so are his so-called friends. I hate to think that I was like that in high school, or my friends have been that way. There’s some sort of redemption for him at the end but I was hoping that he would dump his friends (most of them) at the very least.
Sun god Worthy (4 out of 5 stars). “We are Totally Normal” tackles teenage life and its dilemmas: the power play, image building, the relationships. Rahul Kanakia presented a story in a way that was not done by many YA novel authors. It is real and unique. But having unlikeable characters (like almost all of them) is its pitfall. It chipped away the realness of the story with its obsession with evil high schoolers in a social hierarchy battle. It is not an unforgettable story, but most readers would not read it the second time around.