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Normal People By Sally Rooney

By Nann Hilyard

Opposites attract. In Carricklea, a small town in the west of Ireland, Connell and Marianne are both good students. That seems to be all they have in common. Connell is athletic and popular. Marianne is prickly, trying to be a Bohemian intellectual. He is from a single-parent household. There’s not much money but there is a lot of affection.  Her family is very well-to-do, but her parents are preoccupied with their careers. She and her older brother are constantly at odds.

At school the two young people barely acknowledge that they know one another. One day their paths cross directly because Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s parents’ house. They begin an affair that they keep a secret from their classmates. Connell’s mother knows and is one of most accepting mothers ever: she doesn’t want him to be hurt but she doesn’t try to stop them. Marianne’s parents have no idea what their daughter does or how she feels.

Both Connell and Marianne go off to college in Dublin. Over the next four years they come together, drift apart, and come together again. They change majors, they study abroad, they make new friends.  Marianne’s attempt at self-destruction brings Connell to realize that he does want her in his life. He saves her from herself. The twists and turns of Connell and Marianne’s relationship include desire, betrayal, reconciliation, and friendship – but not romance.

Rooney’s viewpoint is removed and sharply focused at the same time. Her prose is crystalline, needle-sharp. Descriptions are needle-sharp: The characters demand attention from the reader and, eventually, non-judgmental understanding.

Hogarth/Penguin Random House, 2019.

Click for Reading Guide.

Nann Blaine Hilyard retired in 2014 after a 39-year career administering small-and medium-sized public librar­ies in Texas, Kansas, Maine, North Dakota, and Illinois. She has served on many ALA and division committees, including the Executive Board and Council. She is currently president-elect of the Retired Members Round Table. She is convener of the ALA Biblioquil­ters, whose collaborative quilt projects have raised more than $25,000 for library school scholarships.

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