Book Review: What the **** is Normal?

As a disabled person I read a lot of books written by other disabled people, including autobiographies. I learn something from every one I read, of course, but they often seem to fall into one or both of two categories. The first is “object of pity” category – the author is very aware that they were dealt a rough hand, and want people to know about it and feel sorry for them. To some extent I can understand this – there are days when I just wish people had some kind of inkling about how difficult everyday things can be for some of us. I crave understanding, but I loathe pity. The other is what disabled people often refer to as “inspiration porn” – this is more about how well the author has overcome adversity against all the odds, making the readers feel inspired. I loathe the “inspirational”, “brave” and “courageous” types of word which although well-intentioned can often be hugely patronising.

When I heard that Francesca Martinez was writing a book I was looking forward to reading it, but with some trepidation. She is a brilliant comedian, and a very powerful activist for disabled rights. She is also the Patron of Evenbreak! The trepidation was because part of me was dreading her book being some kind of combination of the above two categories, which would have been hugely disappointing.

However, I really shouldn’t have worried. As you would expect, from such a born comedian, much of the book is funny. It also contains sad parts, happy parts and thought-provoking parts. It shows the reality of how our surroundings can affect the way we feel about ourselves. Francesca takes us from her childhood, which was happy and full of love and gave her loads of confidence, to adolescence, which was difficult and made her feel different and somehow inadequate, to adulthood when she realised that being different is fine – we are all different, and who would want to be “normal” anyway?

Much of what she talks about is important as well as entertaining. Issues around parenting, schooling, culture and the power of individuals to have a good or bad effect on someone’s life. Although the book is essentially the journey of someone with cerebral palsy making sense of themselves and the world around them, it has something for anyone reading it. It rejects the notion that there is a “norm” to which we should all conform and be measured against, and celebrates difference. I really do think this should be required reading for every human being!

It’s available here – get buying!

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