I just finished Martin Bartloff’s mainstream YA novel, TORN FROM NORMAL. I give it two thumbs up.

The book has a couple of minor drawbacks, neither of which could be helped. The first is multiple point-of-view characters, two main and another minor. The reason this HAD to be the case is one of the book’s strengths; the reason it’s a drawback is that Bartloff’s characters are so real and reader identification with them is so strong, readers won’t want to leave one to go to another. The other drawback is that the book could have used some detailed line editing, but that’s my own fault, since Martin asked me if I’d look it over and I was too swamped. The oopsies are so rare and so minor I don’t think they would even register on most readers’ radar; since I’m used to working in a critique group and since my #4 daughter is an editor, I’m probably more sensitive to the occasional misplaced apostrophe.

But that’s all small stuff.

TORN FROM NORMAL is the story of a young man whose life disintegrates through no fault of his own, and the story of another young man who could easily be in the same position, if circumstances were slightly different. It’s important that we view the story through both young men’s eyes and, briefly, through the eyes of a young woman. Bartloff captures perfectly what it feels like to be on the edge of adulthood, how quickly and wildly a young person can veer from one maturity level to another, one emotion to another, one view of a situation to another. He puts his finger surely on the wrenching psychological position of feeling powerless and guilty in the same situation. No, it doesn’t make sense to feel incapable of doing anything AND to feel like you’ve caused the events that are sweeping your life away, but it’s a real sensation. Bartloff makes the reader not only understand it, but share it.

Andy, the boy whose story the book tells, suffers most from this bind. Although he’s never diagnosed, it’s pretty clear he’s dropped into clinical depression. Bartloff was wise not to raise this diagnosis, since most people who haven’t suffered from it don’t understand how someone can be clinically depressed and still laugh and tell jokes and show enthusiasm about things like cars–another thing Bartloff knows about but doesn’t overdo. Bartloff doesn’t make the mistake of explaining anything–he merely shows Andy’s behavior from the outside, through the eyes of Danny, and from the inside.

Danny is “normal”, which means he’s pretty conflicted, too, as one would expect a human being to be. Unlike Andy, though, Danny is blessed with a more analytical nature. He’s been able to observe the people around him and separate what they do and why they do it from how it affects himself. This reader has the feeling that, even if Danny’s life disintegrated as Andy’s has, he would make better choices and move fairly seamlessly into the necessary maturity. Part of this is because of their different childhoods, but part of it is the luck of the draw, and that’s part of the invisible message of this book.

I recommend this book for young people and adults who want to understand them.

MA

writing prompt: What was your main character like when he/she was young? If he/she is a teen, what was he/she like as a child?

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