I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are – ARC review + some funny stuff

Author: Rachel Bloom
Publication date: November 17, 2020
Genre: memoir, humor
My rating: 4.5/5 stars

It’s funny. It’s weird. It’s occasionally oddly insightful and poignant. Guys, gals, and nonbinary pals, this book is everything I hoped for and then some, a candid testament to the value of honesty and the absolute falseness of the idea that everyone else is normal while you’re just an oddball. From the inimitable Rachel Bloom, creator/star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and creator of amazing songs/music videos including “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury” and “I Steal Pets,” comes a memoir that I can truly say is unlike any memoir I’ve read to date. It contains some echoes of other fun female-comedian-memoirs like Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please…and then amps up the weirdness to a new, wholly delightful level.

In lieu of a plot summary (because…you know…memoir plots are fairly self-explanatory?) I’ll give you a quick rundown of things included in this bite-size tome:

  • Poetry written by Rachel as a child
  • A sample resume for theater people
  • A guide to dealing with bullies
  • A literal map of a hypothetical amusement park
  • A short-form musical about Rachel’s experiences in theater growing up (you can listen to all 15 minutes of it on her website, too! Yes, you can even listen now, if you don’t mind spoilers for…uh…her life I guess?)
  • Excerpts from childhood-Rachel’s diary
  • An “interview” between Rachel at age 23 and Rachel at age 13
  • A chapter from the point of view of Rachel’s dog
  • A one-question personality quiz
  • Explanations of jokes that almost got cut from the script of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for being too dirty
  • A complaint about straight men in musical theater
  • A Harry Potter fanfic about the Hogwarts Drama Club
  • …and so much more!

Rachel Bloom’s life has been marked by intermittent battles with anxiety and OCD, a love of theater that eventually led to her musical-comedy career, feelings of profound isolation, and a deep respect for the creative activity that results from excessive time spent in the bathroom (it’s a whole thing, you’ve just got to read it to understand). This book talks about sex, mental health, Disney, and everything in between. And yet, for all the crazy turns her life has taken, Rachel Bloom has always managed to face the weirdness head-on with a combination of pluck, neuroticism, deflection with humor, and a whole lot of heart.

Rachel Bloom is a highly creative, brilliant comedian who also happens to just be brilliant in generally (like, nerdy-intellectual–maybe that should have been obvious from the fact that, again, she once literally wrote a sort-of-parody song about her deep love of Ray Bradbury). The sheer number of chapter formats she was able to fit into this tiny tome–only 288 pages!–while maintaining quality throughout was impressive to say the least. She managed to weave through thematic threads, especially the idea of “normalcy” and whether that’s even really a thing, while also avoiding the common memoir pitfall of becoming ultra-repetitive.

Okay, yes, I had to embed this here. It’s really sexual, but also hilarious and catchy as heck.

Rachel’s narrative voice is clear, conversational, and laugh-out-loud hilarious (no, seriously, I laughed audibly quite a few times while reading this one). I think this tone is a perfect fit for this sort of book, where a lot of the stories are cringe-inducing and could be horribly embarrassing if treated too seriously (e.g. bad relationship patterns, sex stuff, the aforementioned bathroom thing). It feels more like a chat with a friend than a lecture from a celebrity, which, you know, I guess is kind of the point. I was also a big fan of her footnotes throughout, sometimes clarifying points but often just adding fun jokes on top of already-comedic tales.

The book also felt very of-this-moment; while a lot of it was written pre-pandemic, the epilogue addressed some more recent events in Rachel’s life, including the birth of her daughter, the death of her long-time friend and cowriter Adam Schlesinger, and the general pervasive unease that has followed us all through the age of COVID-19. After J.K. Rowling’s horrible comments about trans people over the summer, Rachel added a footnote to her Potter fanfic chapter indicating her disagreement with those views, her conflicted feelings about the series in light of it’s author’s behavior, and pointing out that fanfic isn’t official and, therefore, does not give any money to Her Royal TERFiness.

There were only a handful of sections in the book that missed the mark for me. The chapter from the perspective of Rachel’s dog, Wiley, didn’t quite land; it was a good idea and writing style, but using it to tell the story of Rachel winning an Emmy felt forced. The picture of Wiley afterward was so freaking adorable, though. And another chapter, an extended parable about wanting to be liked, dragged on longer than necessary without the payoff that I would expect from a section that took up that many pages. But really, in a book with so many amazing elements, two small missteps hardly tarnish my feelings about the rest of it!

Let’s face it: 2020 has been stressful as heck. I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are is the sort of quick, optimistic, relatable book we need right now to remind us we aren’t alone. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics, but it puts everything in a light acknowledging that things can get better. And, of course, a reminder that normalcy is not just overrated, but nonexistent.

Quotes and stuff

This book had so many lines that had me cracking up. Some of them make no sense without context, but some speak for themselves. A few examples, to maybe-possibly-sort-of convince you to check this book out:

Growing up has shown me that beneath any meanness there’s a vulnerable, beautiful person who just doesn’t know how to properly express their emotions. Except for straight men in musical theater. Straight men in musical theater are irredeemable fuckfaces.

Every name for an iguana is fair game except “Connor.”

I know middle school is famous for being filled with dumbfucks, but there really is a special brand of dumbfuckery unique to the Southern California beach suburbs. We’re talking people named “Tiffany” or “Gaskin.” Most of their conversations involved wakeboarding and burritos. People who think “melanoma” means a really awesome tan, people who asked me, “So did you guys write that whole thing?” after the drama department put on Into the Woods. No, Gaskin. We didn’t.

I have certain rules by which I abide and expect others to do the same. For some, it’s off-putting and intense. For others, it’s also off-putting and intense.

Thankfully, this fucked-up obsession with Ethan in no way set an unhealthy pattern for me in future relationships and hahahahahahaha I can’t even finish that sentence.

Now, obviously, his name was not really Devon McElroy. I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy. His real name was Ryan Hamilton.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley! All opinions are my own.

3 thoughts on “I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are – ARC review + some funny stuff

  1. mphtheatregirl November 17, 2020 / 8:16 pm

    Never read this book.

    However, I can say some things kinda of connected. My dad always said “normal is only a setting on the washing machine”. I thought of one of my characters when I saw the word, bullying- Sarge is my antagonist, why is a bully thanks to a heartbreaking and tragic past. Sarge responds to his anger in a negative way= he actually can’t see compassion that is obviously right in front of him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dinipandareads November 17, 2020 / 10:03 pm

    I really don’t know anything about this author and I also haven’t watched her show, but now I feel like I need to and then immediately pick this book up (or vice versa) because she does sound really funny! I already laughed out loud reading some of these quotes so I can imagine how much fun it’d be reading the whole book! I really love the cover (and title) but it really throws me back to my childhood days when books had this style (Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley)! Will definitely be checking this out 🙂 Fabulous review, Kathryn! I can tell how much you enjoyed it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels November 18, 2020 / 11:25 pm

      Ohhhhh you are in for a treat. The show is amazing–it’s a musical/comedy/drama with original songs, wacky-yet-relatable characters, shockingly good diversity, and very good handling of mental health stuff too. (Plus the whole thing is on Netflix!) And, as I guess I’ve said about half a million times now, the book is a lot of fun as well. I hope you end up loving both!

      (Oh, and yes, big-time Babysitter’s Club vibes on the cover, plus a Little Mermaid reference in the title–she was a 90s kid and it shows in the best way haha)

      Like

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