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Normal People by Sally Rooney
Literary fiction

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

Excellent choice

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Quick take

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

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen

    Teens

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NowAMovie

    Now a movie

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks

Synopsis

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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Content warning

This book contains mentions of abuse.

Free sample

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

January 2011

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so it’s just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.

Oh, hey, he says.

Come on in.

She turns and walks down the hall. He follows her, closing the door behind him. Down a few steps in the kitchen, his mother Lorraine is peeling off a pair of rubber gloves. Marianne hops onto the countertop and picks up an open jar of chocolate spread, in which she has left a teaspoon.

Marianne was telling me you got your mock results today, Lorraine says.

We got English back, he says. They come back separately. Do you want to head on?

Lorraine folds the rubber gloves up neatly and replaces them below the sink. Then she starts unclipping her hair. To Connell this seems like something she could accomplish in the car.

And I hear you did very well, she says.

He was top of the class, says Marianne.

Right, Connell says. Marianne did pretty good too. Can we go?

Lorraine pauses in the untying of her apron.

I didn’t realize we were in a rush, she says.

He puts his hands in his pockets and suppresses an irritable sigh, but suppresses it with an audible intake of breath, so that it still sounds like a sigh.

I just have to pop up and take a load out of the dryer, says Lorraine. And then we’ll be off. Okay?

He says nothing, merely hanging his head while Lorraine leaves the room.

Do you want some of this? Marianne says.

She’s holding out the jar of chocolate spread. He presses his hands down slightly further into his pockets, as if trying to store his entire body in his pockets all at once.

No, thanks, he says.

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Why I love it

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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Member ratings (17,579)

  • Kevin W.

    Kansas City, MO

    A simple “plot,” but with characters so fully realized you can’t help but care for them. I appreciated that even until the bitter end, the author stayed true to the cadence of the characters’ dynamic.

  • CAITLIN O.

    Denver, CO

    Still not 100% sure how I feel about this one. But few books are as gripping. I don’t normally obsess over what I’ve been reading, but I can’t stop thinking about this one... & I couldn’t put it down.

  • Camren S.

    Kansas City, MO

    It’s weeks since I’ve finished this, and even though it hasn’t escaped my mind, I still can’t put my thoughts into words. Love, love, love. I felt known, like I was reading a mirror. Will revisit soon

  • Ashley H.

    The Villages, FL

    I enjoyed the beginning more than the end, but I also think the ending matches the rest of the book, even of it’s slightly disappointing. These characters aren’t happy, a HEA wouldn’t feel quite right

  • Karen Q.

    Montgomery , AL

    I wish there was a “liked a lot” rating. I found this book fast paced, interesting, and emotionally touching. However, the ending wasn’t fantastic. I really did enjoy it, though. It’s a good read!

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