Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey Book Poster Image
Inspiring, graphic story of boy with facial differences.

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Kids say

age 9+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

For kids who are interested in the physical details of what it takes for a kid like Nathaniel to get through the day there are lots of descriptions of trach suctioning, feeding by g-tube, surgery prep and the like. For kids who want to know about what it feels like to walk in Nathaniel's shoes, his strong acceptance of himself is eye-opening. His family's emotional journey is described by his mother in frank detail.

Positive Messages

Having a positive attitude can help turn a situation around to get the best possible outcome. Being normal means different things to different people. Be kind and change someone's life. It's important to admit that sometimes a person's reactions to you might be outside of your control -- the best we can do is to manage the situation with grace. One book or movie can change how people treat other people. Try to see through identities to the person inside. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nathaniel's approach to his differences is to completely accept himself the way he is. He doesn't add a lot of drama to his life, because he knows he's lucky to be able to do simple things like breathe. His mom admits to her own struggles in accepting her son. She's very honest about her experiences and owns them, knowing that she's not perfect. Nathaniel's dad is more outwardly emotional, but he does a lot of the physical caregiving for Nathaniel, including carrying his son into every operation and holding him on his lap until he falls asleep from the anesthesia. 

Violence

Graphic descriptions of medical procedures can be jarring: suctioning a trach tube 10 to 70 times a day, excruciating pain because of screws that are tightened in the skin, blood trickling down Nathaniel's face because of screws going through his skin, description of Nathaniel barfing through a trach tube after he nearly suffocates from the vomit, his mother putting her knees on his infant hands while she's helping him, and her vomiting before and afterwards, eyes and jaws sewn shut after surgery. Nathaniel's dad threatens to punch a neighbor. A dog dies.  

Sex
Language

"Sucks."

Consumerism

Winnie the Pooh, Baby Mozart, Google, Nutella, Cool Whip, Tonka, Sears, Thomas the Train, Baby Loony Tunes, Cheesecake Factory, Spider Man, Wonder, Star Wars, Nightmare on Elm Street, 20/20, Game Stop, Shrek, Rotten Tomatoes, Minecraft, Grammy, Beauty and the Beast, Ronald McDonald House, Lightning McQueen, Pokemon, iPad, Baskin and Robbins, Hebrew National hotdogs, Toy Story, Bambi, Disney.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey is a memoir about a boy named Nathaniel Newman who has Treacher Collin's syndrome -- which causes craniofacial differences like the main character in Wonder has -- and has to endure many surgeries to help him with basic functions like breathing and eating. These functions are described in graphic detail, such as the cleaning his trach tube many times a day (for a dozen years) lest he suffocate. Nathaniel's fed through a tube in his stomach, called a g-tube, which allows him to have food and nutrients put directly into his body. His eyes are sewn shut for a few days after a surgery and his jaws sewn shut for four months. Over his lifetime, he has trouble eating, and there are many descriptions of him vomiting through his mouth or trach tube. He has to wear a halo that has "screws that need to be tightened daily to slowly expand my bones." The tightening causes him intense pain, and he bleeds from the screw insertion points. All of this is to say that the medical aspect of the story is graphically rendered, and it's meant to illustrate what Nathaniel has had to go through in order to physically function better. His mother also describes her own health issues, which include details of her battles against cancer. There are near-death experiences and a beloved dog dies.

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User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old May 15, 2020

The Best!

I really liked this book but it was a little intense so it would be good for tweens and up

What's the story?

In NORMAL: ONE KID'S EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY, authors Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman recount the challenges that Nathaniel experiences, having been born with Treacher Collins syndrome. These challenges, told from both his mother's and his point of view, are described with brutal honesty. Magda recalls thinking, "This is the worst day of my life," when she saw Nathaniel for the first time. Her truthfulness serves as a baseline as she and her family endure nearly 70 surgeries to help Nathaniel do basic things like breathe, eat, and hear. Nathaniel is pretty immune to the looks and comments that people make when they see him for the first time. He lets it all roll off his back, knowing what real challenges -- and real friends -- look like. When the book Wonder comes out and then is made into a film, he's asked to play a special role in making the movie realistic. His family continues to advocate for people who are different, making the world a little more "normal" for every unique person.

Is it any good?

This is a fascinating and graphic memoir of a family's struggle to live with a child's severe craniofacial impairments. Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey is really two stories -- Nathaniel's almost impish account of his life to date, and a survival story told by his mother, Magda. There are flashbacks to her childhood in Poland and also her struggle with cancer. These sidelines are interesting, but they aren't always relevant to Nathaniel's story or his personal experience. 

One of the things that makes Nathaniel's story incredible is his ability to accept his situation for what it is. He speaks about not knowing anything other than life as he's lived it. His mother's narrative serves to show how much labor has gone into raising a child with severe challenges. Her point of view is graphically detailed. She's brutally honest with herself and challenges those who don't show compassion. Whether her side of the story is really compelling to kids is questionable. But as real-life superheroes go, Nathaniel has definitely earned his status.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Parents can talk about the role that kid -- and adult -- bullies play in Normal: One Kid's Extraordinary Journey. How does Nathaniel cope with people's reactions to his facial differences? 

  • Nathaniel loves playing video games when he is in the hospital. When is screen time helpful? When is it too much?

  • Nathaniel and his family notice a big change in peoples' reaction to his facial differences after the movie Wonder comes out. How do movies have the ability to change opinions and behaviors?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of physical health challenges

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