Some Kind of Normal Paperback – Dec 2 2009
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About the Author
Heidi Willis graduated from Penn State with degrees in Education and Communications. She taught junior high English in Texas long enough to develop a tolerance for country music but not long enough to speak with an accent. As a type 1 diabetic, she has plenty of experience in poking herself with needles and eating jelly beans and considers herself an expert in carb counting. Heidi is an avid photographer and loves to travel. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.
Top Customer Reviews
The main catalyst of the story is the disease of type 1 diabetes and it's life-changing impact on the family. The reader gets to know the sickness inside out, yet the author achieves this by laying out the flow in a very organic, believable and incremental manner. She gives plenty of facts and treatment protocols, but never overloads the reader with them, doesn't slows down the story any or loses the reader's interest.
Above all, the story is very human, intensely personal anybody can identify with. After all we are all just a few DNA strands from the experience ourselves. The book addresses our worst nightmares, fear for loved ones, and our vulnerability when it comes to our children. Yet, in the midst of all the crises, it never losses hope, though at times comes close to it.
My Willis succeeds admirably in balancing the different themes in her novel. There is the sickness, family dynamics, paralyzing uncertainty, conflict of faith, compromises, the mathematics of gains and losses, mood swings, all centered around the sick 12-year old daughter.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
From the moment this heart wrenching story opened, I fell in love with Babs, through the voice that Willis has given her. Willis has a tremendous gift of dialogue, and a way with dialect that I have seldom experienced. Babs is one of the most realistic literary voices I have ever read; there is no way to describe it but raw. And so human, it almost hurts. I often felt as though I were reading a dear friend's diary, instead of a novel. She puts up no pretenses, and apologizes for nothing, yet still manages to doubt herself more than she ever needs to.
The characters in Babs' life are remarkably true also; from Travis, her faith-bound husband, to Logan, her steadfast, yet wayward son, to Dr. Benton, her angel in disguise, Babs asks - no, demands - that we know them all as well as she does, and that we love them all with her same intensity. And she leads us to discover that the story isn't about diabetes at all, or about controversial research, or really even about faith. It's about the love a mother has for her children, and the strength we find within ourselves to get up every morning and hope again, when we're certain there's no hope left.
In moments of panic and desperation, Babs will make you laugh out loud with her honesty and absolute simplicity. But don't be fooled by her candid humor; you're going to need the Kleenex, too.
As I read this book some 40,000 feet above the North Atlantic as I worked my way back to the United States from Britain, I found myself thinking of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in which he explores the nature and meaning and concepts involved in knowing and valuing what is really important. Pirsig, at the very beginning of his book stresses the importance of observation; not simply observing the world around us, but observing details that are important to the whole that we too often fail to see.
How does one trust anything today? Modernity taught us to trust science and reason, and to discount the value of trusting religion, authority, tradition, and the teaching of the church, for example. Postmodernity teaches us that there is no truth except the truth of the proposition that there is no truth, that everything is in flux, that experience is all that counts, and that whatever counts for religious belief is to be held privately with no relevance to debates in the public square.
Some reviewers regard Some Kind of Normal by Heidi Willis as a page turner, a book that reaches deep into the reader's emotional nature, and maybe tugs at the strings of one's heart. At one level, it is that, a page turner and emotional tear jerker. But, it is so much more than that. For it addresses some of the most controversial and important issues of our day. We read statistics about the prevalence of diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2, in society. Too often, bioethics is ignored, because what is technologically and scientifically feasible must be pursued with vigor without regard to its morality, which is thought to be nothing more than opinion and subjective, or law, which has no business interfering with progress. Stem cell research, which fits within this model, is neither clearly understood nor supported because it has been misrepresented generally in the press and has become a political debating point without clear undertanding of the moral dimensions of stem cell research, either embryonic stem cell research or adult stem cell research. At the center of all of this is the debate between science and religion, as if there is a conflict between the two, rather than a recognition that each, within its respective domain, speaks with authority as to those matters over which it has competence. Heidi Willis digs deep in all of these questions, but with the style of a real storyteller.
More than that, she is an observer of life and the stuff of living, with careful attention to detail. She knows her Christian faith and has the ability to explore the dimensions of that faith theologically and apologetically in a setting that that accurately reflects the experiences of family in a small Texas community, and of life in a small town church with its own identity as a part of a Christian denomination that is so identified with the South and with Texas. She knows and understands diabetes, the scientific advancements in the management and treatment of that disease, and her observations of medical care and life in a hospital ring authentic and true.
For me, as someone who has lived in a small town in Texas, as a father of two daughters with Type 1 diabetes, and as one who has studied bioethics and particularly, the bioethics issues involved in stem cell research, this book was not a page turner. It was one that prompted me as I read to contemplation and thought as I found myself resting the book on my lap and reflecting on what I read and its implications. The author has it just right, and it is a book with the power to educate and inform, as well as to incite the imagination.
What did I take away at the end of this enthralling story? The resiliency of the basic building block of all of society, the family, is miraculous to behold. These four people, all of whom were desparately ill-prepared to deal with the potential death of their youngest member, somehow find their way through the struggles and come out at the other side of the ordeal as a stronger, more understanding and more loving unit. Logan, the mohawk haircut wielding rebel of a son, was clearly my favorite. He turns out to be the strongest, and most understanding, of the group. It is Logan who becomes the common ground that unites his intellectually overmatched mother, religious zealot father, and sick sister. As the story is told from the perspective of the mom, Heidi weaves Logan in and out of the story so seamlessly that you are actually surprised at how influential he is in helping this beleagured family to survive. Heidi manages to take characters who I initially loathed (the "church ladies"), and humanize them in a way that at least forces you to understand their own struggles to apply their religions beliefs to a real life tragedy unfolding right in front of them. Needless to say, I enjoyed the book immensely. I recommend it without reservation to anyone.
But here's the deal, the book itself sounds serious and deep, maybe even a little depressing, and at its core, the issue of a twelve-year-old girl dying from Type 1 Diabetes is a heavy one, but that's NOT this book at all. This was a book about a family, it was about a woman trying to find herself, it was a love story, but mostly, it was about a mother's choices. And all of these things were handled with such perfect care that they felt real and poignant, and at times, funny and bittersweet.
Ashley's mother, Babs, is an uneducated white woman living in the bible belt of Texas and wondering why she doesn't have the same unflinching faith that everyone around her does (including her husband and children). She goes through the motions, attending anti-abortion rallies and mouthing the words in church, but privately she worries that God will strike her down for lack of faith. It's Babs' voice that keeps you reading, she's just so unapologetic about her lack of education, and so genuine, and she's got this great sense of humor which is self-deprecating yet endearing. One of my favorite things is that throughout the book Babs refers to the fact that she's secretly studying her son's SAT vocab words, and she sprinkles them into her internal monologue (explaining the meaning to the reader, as if we'd never heard the word "surreal" before). I honestly fell in love with this woman. I already have a thing for Southern voices, and Heidi Willis nailed these characters for me.
Set in southern Texas where everyone knows everyone, and everyone goes to church, it's hard to cope with a new disease in the family when they're all breathing down your neck. Especially when they all bring baked goods to heal your wounded heart, even though your 12 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Not only has she got type 1, but soon after diagnosis, they realize she's got an allergy to the insulin as well. So she needs to inject insulin to stay alive, but the insulin she's injecting is killing her.
Babs is the mom who may have only a tenth grade education, but she's got the curiosity and the ability to research the pants off of anyone who challenges her. She is determined to cure her daughter- or atleast find something that will help her daughter (who is very quickly wasting away because she can't eat) live. Babs is funny yet introspective. She is brave and questioning. She has faith in her family, not so much faith in God.
Travis is the dad who has undying faith in his God, believing "God's will" will save his 12 year old daughter. He is strong, spending much time away from the family to make the money and keep the insurance that is supporting the months long stay in the hospital. The adoration from his daughter is enough to carry his love through the whole book.
Logan is the older brother. He acts like a misfit, but he is really the smartest person in this whole book. He is extremely book smart and can teach anyone anything- but hides behind his mohawk hair and bad attitude. He is probably the most mis-understood character in this story. And I probably love him the most.
Ashley is the 12 year old whose life suddenly comes crashing down at diagnosis. Through Babs's eyes, we see Ashley growing sicker and sicker. We see how brave Ashley is to face this disease head-on (not like she has any other choice) And Ashley's unwavering faith in her God is enough to carry the rest of the family through this time.
But, don't get me wrong. "Some Kind of Normal" is NOT a preachy-God-loving book. I'm not even a believer, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ms Willis's writing style is beautiful. It's funny when it needs to be and informative when I have no idea what's going on.
As a Diabetes-Fighting-Champion for 12 years, I've never seen the world outside my own. I have known all along that my friends and my family suffer because of my health, but I'd never really THOUGHT about how hard it was when I was first diagnosed. I'm in my 20s now, so I can handle my own life... but when I was just a teen, struggling to find my place in the world, my parents had to watch my body fall apart time and time again. The insuin shock comas are real. The ketoacidosis is real. The allergies and the resistance to the insulins that you have to inject 10 times per day... those are real too.
I have always been a supporter of stem cell research, but felt sick to my stomach knowing they used aborted fetuses. Through this book, I actually learned a whole lot about stem cell research- but it didn't feel like a "factual" read in that I was completely entertained without feeling like I was reading a textbook.
This book should be mainstream. It's a shame it was published by such a small company. This story needs to be told and it was written very well.
This book is told from the point of view of the mom.
For stories told from the type 1 point of view, see great books:
"This Side of Normal" by Eric Devine
"Wretched (this is my sorry)" by Katherine Marple