Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn and Thrive Outside the Lines


Jonathan Mooney


Henry Holt and Company






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As an organisation with a 'recommended reading' section on our website I often get approached by publishers asking me to review their latest books. In most cases I turn the offer down, but there was something about the email I received from Jonathan Mooney's publishers that appealed to me - and I am so glad it did.

Jonathan Mooney's book is brilliant. Although it deals with a serious subject, it does so in a way that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. At times it had me ranting at the injustices of our institutions, at other times almost crying with laughter.

At its core, Normal Sucks is an insider's view of what it is like to be categorised and discriminated against by society. Mooney, diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD when he was 10 years old, provides a brutally honest insight into the trials, tribulations and emotions a child and their parents might experience as they wrestle with institutions and a society designed for normal people.

To understand how the concept of normal emerged, Mooney traces the word back to its roots and then follows the way in which successive generations have sought to apply statistical modelling to all manner of social, physiological and psychological situations. At the heart of all these applications, is a desire to 'correct' the abnormalities, to do your best to restore people, as close as possible, to the normal state. Yet ironically, no one has ever succeeded in defining what normal is.

In the 1940s the development of ready-made clothing made the definition of standard sizes and fittings desirable. As a result, vast amounts of data on body size and shapes was collected, which resulted in 2 curious statues that exist today in the Cleveland Natural History Museum in the US. The statues are called Norma and Normman, as they are supposed to represent the average person. When they went on display in 1945 they caused such a hit that a competition was initiated to find the living embodiment of Norma. 3,863 women submitted their measurements and a winner was finally announced. The only problem was that in reality, none of the entrants actually had the exact same measurements as the statistically normalised statue - it would appear that normal does not exist. In fact, none of us are normal!

The purpose of Mooney's book is to point out that not being normal is a good thing. Genetically we may all be 99% the same, but that 1% difference is what makes us all distinct, unique and special. Indeed, if it were not for the differences, we would not evolve, so humans would not in fact exist at all! As Mooney puts it:

"Have you ever considered that you are a valuable human being, not despite your differences but because of them?"

Of all the books I have read in the last couple of years, Normal Sucks is by far the most thought-provoking, interesting and enjoyable. I can honestly say that it captivated me throughout and I actually read every word on every page, which is something I rarely do. It provides a brilliant insight into the lives of people who, through no fault of their own, fall outside of the parameters of what others determine as normal. This is something I believe we should all rail against as, without the 'abnormals', we would not have cracked the Enigma code and won the Second World War, would not have had Virgin Records, Trains or Planes, iPhones and iPads or this wonderful book.

Reviewed September 2019