Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they're anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors' homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger's who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett's secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That's what happens when you're practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.


I often say that I'd like to read about the everyday lives of well-developed characters simply because people are interesting and the way that they interact with the world is intriguing. This book brought me that in a satisfying way, though it had a distinct plot as well.


While reading this book, I truly got to know Kate and her daughter Jenna. I came to understand Everett and the way that he thought. And I came to appreciate and adore JT with his Asperger's and his unique way of viewing the world. The family itself is very insular, but I got to know secondary characters too through the ways that they interacted with the family.


Jenna was my favourite character--she has a tendency to break into houses and came to know many of her neighbours in that fashion. She's also quite intelligent and aware of what's going on. I loved the way she was vulnerable as she started exploring romance despite the cynicism of her grandmother.


And her grandmother, wow, she definitely kept things moving and provided a source of much of the conflict within this book. Her character also raised important questions of depression and the way we treat the elderly that I found to be quite poignant.


The plot wasn't quite interesting--if I described it to you, I'm not sure that it would persuade you to read this. In theory, it focused on a mystery of birth, and in Kate's sister trying to find their long-gone father. But instead, the strength of this book came from more of an exploration of characters as they navigated certain situations.


Nonetheless, this book was quite enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to more from Achterberg.


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.