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Like Normal People
by Karen E. Bender
Mariner Books

Last week I sent my mom a gift for Mother’s Day, but I didn’t send a card. There’s just too much I’d like to say, and sometimes I’m not the greatest with words—odd coming from a writer, I know.

My mom’s support is something monumentally moving. She’s ensured the comfort and normalcy of my life as her number-one cause—and that means the world to me, her handicapped daughter. My life constantly called for improvising already existing ideas of what is, “normal.” So, I can’t imagine the challenges she faced, the stresses she endured—nor can I conceptualize the instances of ignorance she came in contact with during the process. I am endlessly grateful for her relentless fight at being the best mom.

A mom and encore reader, Eileen Clark, shares the same struggles. Currently, she is trying to find an accepting school for her youngest child who lives with Aspergers, Tourette’s, depression and severe anxiety. Regularly, she and her daughter, Sam, face cruel judgment. Sam is discriminately and routinely taken out of school functions and even flatly denied appropriate aids. While I wish there were more I could personally do, this month’s book-club selection, “Like Normal People,” is dedicated to courageous mothers everywhere, including my own and Eileen.

A Los Angeles Times bestseller, Port City author Karen Bender is well-known as a writer of timeless stories relevant to society. They’ve been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best. Her words have appeared within several heavy-hitting magazines like, The New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Story and The Iowa Review. A UNCW creative writing professor and co-editor of the nonfiction anthology, Choice, Bender has also won not just one, but two Pushcart Prizes and has been featured on “Selected Shorts” on National Public Radio. Now she brings encore book worms (and mothers) one of The Washington Post’s best books of the year.

“Like Normal People” follows main character Lena, a 48-year-old adult mentally trapped in childhood. When Lena escapes her residential home and goes missing with her 12-year-old niece, the novel travels with her day-long escape as her widowed mother, Ella, searches for them. In the process, Ella re-experiences her own life’s reveries and frustrations, like her marriage to a compassionate and loving shoe salesman; the unearthing of Lena’s handicap; and her endlessly painful fight to give her daughter a “normal” childhood.

A novel that will navigate readers through three generations, starting in 1978, in the course of 24 hours, “Like Normal People” will hopefully not bog us down with overwhelming deep meaning, but rather offer a hilarious and sentimental journey into the one concept that can be said to plague every human life. By illustrating subtle idiosyncrasies, nostalgia and adorations, while dexterously flowing into the mindfulness of three women at very dissimilar times in life, Bender promises to enlarge our sagacity of what it means to live in a world where normalcy is not only inflexible, but hard to maintain because of its judgmental society.

Cited by Publisher’s Weekly to “captivate readers with a freshness of observation and arresting imagery,” “Like Normal People” is a novel pledged to not only accurately depict a parent’s love and longing, adoration and acceptance, but also focus on the important ways families strengthen as they overcome adversity.

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