Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Careful now don't get caught in your dreams: PRACTICING NORMAL.

Practicing NormalPracticing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Poor Kate Turner. She lives in a beautiful home in Pine Estates with her family: husband, Everett; teenage daughter, Jenna; and tween son, JT. But things are not as lovely (and normal) as they appear from the outside. Everett works at a security firm, but he also disappears for hours on end, and Kate worries he's having (another) affair. Jenna learned to break into homes from her dad, and she's busy skipping school and putting that talent to good use. She also has no use for her father since his mistress appeared on their front doorstep. And JT is a wonderful, intelligent kid, but he is also dealing with Asperberger's and the fact that his father would love nothing more than for him to be "normal."

I just have to preface my review to say that I don't understand why more people don't know of and read Cara Sue Achterberg. I read her last novel, Girls' Weekend, and it was so good. She also has a great twitter, fosters dogs, and is just so fun. Darn you, world!

Anyway, I liked the characters of PRACTICING NORMAL (or at least was drawn into their worlds) immediately -- there was no way I was ever going to like Kate's husband, though. Kate is so real--she is flawed, she is tough, she is a loving mom. She is no stock character. Achterberg does spot-on coverage of Kate's mother, Mildred, a crotchety old woman with borderline dementia. Mildred's love of her backyard songbirds is just awesome: you will laugh (and perhaps cry). There are also touching (and probably pretty realistic) interactions with her son. Meanwhile, her husband is just a piece of work.

Achterberg has a way of making you empathize so deeply with her characters. I felt so badly for Kate. Other times I wanted to shake her, wake her up, and get her out of her life. No matter what, I was completely invested in her story. She's relatable and will certainly appeal to the overworked, stressed moms of the world. (There's a moment where Kate wishes she could just have a temporary health issue and wind up in the hospital for a moment - where people actually care for her for once. Oh yes. Haven't we all been there--guiltily--for a minute or two?)

The POV varies mainly between Kate and Jenna--and about a quarter way through the story, we hear from that "louse" (as Mildred would say) Everett. I enjoyed how Achterberg used shorter sentences and simpler words when speaking as Everett. I'm sorry, but I could just never warm up to that guy. (Read it, you'll understand.) Now Jenna? She's a gem. A spitfire of a teen with the ability to see through the pretend layers everyone puts on. I fiercely wanted to protect Jenna--a testament to Achterberg's writing and this character she had created.

I was a bit irritated by Kate's sister Evelyn and her constant focus on bringing their deadbeat father back into their life (though that storyline picks up later), but Evelyn certainly stood for yet another thing poor Kate must deal with. I mean, seriously. This poor woman.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. Much like GIRLS' WEEKEND, I am just amazed at how well Achterberg writes her characters and how quickly she draws you into their lives. I might have enjoyed GIRLS just a tad more, but only because I am more at the point of those women in my life (with younger kids) than Kate. I still really liked this novel. I would find myself just smiling at parts while I read it, because I was so taken by the characters. I was rooting for Kate and Jenna (and JT!) and, often, very much against Everett and Evelyn. It's truly a lovely reflection on the different kinds of love we have for others, and yes, the spectrum of normal. Highly recommend with 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review. It is available as of 06/06/17.

You can read my review of Achterberg's previous novel, GIRLS' WEEKEND, here.

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