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Normal People by Sally Rooney
Literary fiction

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

Quick take

Two misfits share an on-again, off-again romance in this wise coming-of-age story about friendship and belonging.

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This is a book about flawed characters and addresses themes of depression and abuse.

Why I love it

Grace Atwood
Founder, The Stripe

We all have had that one person who really just “gets” us and understands us when no one else does. Maybe it works out with them, maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, they’re that person we keep going back to—for better or worse. Normal People explores that sort of (confusing) relationship. At its core, it’s about love—but don’t mistake it for a romance.

In a small town in Ireland, Connell and Marianne meet in high school. Connell is the popular one and Marianne is the weird girl that no one wants to be friends with. Gradually, the two strike up an unlikely relationship, which continues into their college years. There, the tables turn. Now it's Marianne who is popular—even as she struggles with her demons—while Connell finds himself suddenly irrelevant and adrift.

From page one, Sally Rooney drew me in. Rarely have I encountered a portrayal of a relationship—with all the vulnerabilities, insecurities, and ugly moments—that felt so ripped-from-the-pages of my own life. It’s a painful and depressing read at times, but it’s also so real. Can you handle it?

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At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

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Get an early look from the first pages of Normal People.

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