The World of Normal Boys
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The World of Normal Boys

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  1,414 ratings  ·  70 reviews
K.M. Soehnlein's trenchant, emotionally honest debut novel unfailingly captures the spirit of a generation and an era. "The World of Normal Boys" is told in the haunting voice of thirteen-year-old Robin MacKenzie, a modern-day Holden Caulfield, whose struggle for a place in the world is as ferocious as it is real.It is the late 1970s in suburban New Jersey, and while "norm...more
Paperback, 282 pages
Published August 1st 2001 by Kensington (first published 2000)
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Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I've read lots of coming-of-age stories, but none have dredged up as many sweet and painful memories as this one has. The author has done an amazing job bringing the 70's to life and creating a character that is so believable and so easy to identify and connect with.

Robin MacKenzie is 13 years old and living in a New Jersey suburb with his parents, brother and sister. In many ways he is a typical teenager, wanting to make friends, fit in, and be “cool”. Though Robin is...more
Loren Olson
I can’t say that I enjoyed “The World of Normal Boys” but I loved it. Having grown up in the same era – alright, somewhat before – and not having come out until I was forty, the ambivalence and social constrictions felt by Robin and his sexual partners, Todd and Scott, were all very familiar. From my perspective as a psychiatrist, the exaggerated dysfunction of Robin’s family following the accident that injured Robin’s brother, Jackson, were all very real.

Robin’s magical dream of escape to the p...more
This coming out novel set in the late 1970s is for me a remembrance of things past. It is about Robin, a 13 y/o boy's gay sexual awakening. It is about risk, guilt, family matters, redemption, rebellion... The plot is interesting, the characters well drawn, the prose flowing. One will surely recognize his own feelings, actions and concerns at that age in this book's characters.

Coming out, coming of age books have become legion. This is one of the best I have read. A very telling contrast is bet...more
Oct 01, 2009 Ted rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ages 14 and up
Shelves: gay-fiction
I first read “The World of Normal Boys” last year, and I liked it a lot. Upon re-reading it, I agree that it’s kind of depressing, unsettling, but also realistic. Remember that this is set in the 1970s. How much did your average gay 13yo then know about Stonewall, for instance?

I can easily imagine a young 1970s boy who knows he attracted to boys, is consumed with guilt on multiple fronts, has virtually no positive role models, jerks off a lot, and gets slapped around by everybody. But does this...more
Alex Dembrowsky-henry
Nov 03, 2011 Alex Dembrowsky-henry rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone over the age of 16, Homophobes
Shelves: favorites
I loved almost much everything about this book except for the ending... it was more of a downer than I was expecting, and after the emotional intensity of everything that came before it, left me kind of depressed, to be honest.

I didn't think I would get into this book as much as I did, because I can't say I had much of anything in common with the main character, Robin. And yet Soehnlein's writing was so vivid and his characterizations so devastatingly real that I felt like I'd known him my whole...more
I found this book at a friends of the library sale. I thought it looked interesting, but I was not prepared for the intensity level or even just the premise of the story at all. It's a very well-written, emotional tale that, I would think, accurately portrays how tangled life as an adolescent boy would be, particularly an adolescent boy who is examining his own sexuality, let alone the other issues he is facing. Very provocative.
I loved this book. It genuinely captures the era and sets a tone. It also captures the intense sexual confusion that happens to a teen going through perhaps the most turbulent time of his life. I felt tremendous sympathy for the main character. This is one of the best coming of age stories I've read.
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The World of Normal Boys really took me by surprise. It's been a long time since I've read a novel in which I really cared about the main character and couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. It starts off promising and then BAM! about 60 pages in an unexpected event occurs which causes the novel to do a 180, veering off onto a different trajectory. At first I didn't know whether or not I was going to like the direction it took but by the time I reach page 100 or so, the novel hits its...more
John Eakin
I found this to be a very interesting and heart wrenching book at the same time. The authors grasp of what it is like to struggle with the knowledge of being different from other boys is extremely realistic. The main character wrestles with many of the same feelings that I, and others have dealt with during the coming of age period; that which seems to come so naturally to straight boys, yet seems to leave a gay boy lost in adolescence. It brought me back to my teenage years although it takes pl...more
Gene Rios
I plan to search for more novels by this gentleman. His narrative hooks you gradually, almost like you're caught unknowingly in the web of his words. I was most-impressed with his ability to embody the innocence of 13-year old boy and his collapsing world. Like Faulkner, he does not flinch in his imagery where most writers would, and I applaud that daring. Great, great...and equally-heartbreaking book.
Brian Centrone
Jan 03, 2008 Brian Centrone rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: brian-s-best
I bought this book when it first came out and I loved it. I was to connect with the main chacter right away. I think it is one of the best gay fiction novels of all time. It's one of those novels anyone can read. I even have a nice e-mail exchange with the author!
David Jay
Sweet and sad coming of age story of Robin Mackenzie. He is a gay high school freshman in 1979, living in suburban New Jersey, dealing with first love, first experiences with sex and with drugs, family falling apart. Very moving.
I almost couldn't set this down -- it's like a wonderful lost 1970s coming of age miniseries (for HBO)
Tex Reader
4.0 of 5 stars – Well-Written, Moving, Realistic Picture of a Young Gay Teen

I like gay YA and coming of age stories, and this is one of the best ones I’ve read. It realistically and movingly captured what I would guess most people feel about their early adolescence – it transported me back in time to my own early teenage years of self-doubt, insecurities, awkwardness, self-discovery, and sexual awakening.

It also transported me back to the late 70s. I enjoyed all the references to the songs, TV,...more
Il più bel romanzo di formazione e a tematica gay che ho letto. Una perla in mezzo a tanta spazzatura.
Una scrittura magistrale, scorrevole, che rapisce. L'ho letto in un colpo solo: non potevo farne a meno. Straordinaria non solo la caratterizzazione del protagonista, giovane adolescente che si sente diverso, con tutte le sue turbe e i suoi problemi ad accertarsi e farsi accettare, ma anche quella degli altri personaggi. A cominciare dai membri della sua famiglia, dalle loro reazioni sempre più...more
Steve Woods
I really enjoyed this book. Beautifully written, the voice of Robin, definitely not a "normal boy" dealing with his unfolding realization that this is so for him. Set in a context of great stress in his family as his brother is dying as a result of an accident in which Robin has played a part it explores the passage from the violet light of childhood into the grittiness of life with all its accomapanying emotions, and vagaries. Life where no one is what they present and the hidden is always as p...more
One of my all time favorite books, and IMO, the BEST coming of age novel about gay teenage boys. I have never read a book that was so honest about the experiences 13 and 14 year old boys - gay and straight - go through as their hormones start to kick in. Sex becomes front of mind, constantly, the body changes rapidly, and everything is confusing.

There are multiple threads to the story, but it is Robin's story as he deals with his little brothers severe injury and watches his family unravel whil...more
Jul 17, 2014 Amy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: lgbt
I loved this book.. It was amazing. It reminds me of Neil from Mysterious Skin, in a way. I love reading about LGBT book that are based in the 70s - 90s. One of my most favorite books, the fact it was in the 70s, but written in a way that still fits modern society today. I loved the relationship between Scott and Robin. It was touching, especially at the end. This is an excellent book.
An honest, unflinching coming-of-age tale about a teenage, gay male in the suburbs of New Jersey in the late 1970's. Tragedy strikes his family just as he is, sexually, beginning to discover himself, setting off a great train of further events in his life and his family members' lives. The story is well told and truthful, the narrative well laid out. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, and am interested in reading (someday) its sequel, "Robin and Ruby".
I just have to say a few simple things that are on my mind: I wasn't entirely fond of the fact that the book is narrated in third person, but I got used to it, but it was harder to read through or relate, I think. I also found it to be kind of predictable throughout the book. That doesn't mean it's a terrible thing but it did take away a lot of the thrill and anticipation. And last thing- I HATED the ending. I think I am used to happy happy endings and this is only a smidge happy, and mostly fru...more
Nick Stagliano
A well-written coming-of-age gay novel that accurately and heartbreakingly captures some of the heartbreaking aspects of coming of age as not someone who is not exactly "normal".
K.Z. Snow
I'm having trouble getting immersed in this one. First problem: buying into the premise that the narrator is only 13. I've skimmed a lot (never a good sign), yet it seems I haven't missed much of anything. Although the writing is vivid, the characters keep hitting discordant notes for me, the plot is dragging, and the third-person present tense narration is just . . . odd (it's keeping me distanced; I haven't felt any real sympathy for anybody, except maybe the kid with the abusive father).

Vfields is happy!
This is one if the oddest books I’ve ever read. The author is wonderful but I really am not grooving - can’t put down the saga of a fifteen year old boy who’s deal with a tragedy within his family and all the madness that goes with being a kid who doesn’t fit in too well. Half way through the novel I became totally connected to Robin and was feeling his pain and frustration. The plausible ending was just fine. Robin was a fifteen year old boy whose family fell apart after a tragedy and he become...more
Suki Fleet
One of the first titles that inspired me to write YA/Coming of Age fiction. A small piece of perfection.

Suki Fleet
While I enjoyed this book, the author's preoccupation with masturbation was a distraction for me. Maybe I am naive to think this, but I don't see how adolescent boys can masturbate so much and get hard a billion times a day. Or maybe they do. My point is, even if they do, I don't need to hear about it. The constant mention of boners and masturbation took you out of the story and just became gratuitous. It may have something to do with the fact that the author is kind of a slimeball. Granted, I g...more
The title caught my attention, as I was certainly an outsider of such a world. I still feel like a foreigner when I'm in a locker room. It spoke to me, or so I thought.

In terms of detail and character development, the book was pretty daring. In terms of plot, it seemed busy and contrived at times. I could picture the writer directing the characters. The main character's last choice (to get on the bus) did nothing for me.

To be fair, something kept me reading. It may have been pure empathy for th...more
Exceptional book. Extremely well written and superb characterisation. Few authors have managed to dip into the world of someone Robin's age and captured the mood so successfully. All the self doubts and insecurities, without shying away from your darkest, deepest thoughts. That some would scarely be able to admit to themselves, let alone others.
One of those books I couldn't put down, and managed to disappear into another world. My only negative about the book was the last page... if only it had...more
I found this book majorly depressing but I think that may be more about me than this book because it was very well written and the story was real and dramatic. It was both a coming to terms with sexuality and a coming to terms with horrible things happening sort of book. The characters were well rounded and although it was told from the perspective of Robin, a young boy, I could see the struggles of the other characters too. It was a good book but I wasn't in the right frame of mind to truly app...more
This is one of the best coming of age books I've ever read. Written with an intensity that grabs you from the first chapter, you fall in love with Robin and want him to succeed with finding out what true love is. Robin is trying to understand why he's attracted to other guys and he is beginning to think his family is full of insanity. Written with a deep sense of understanding, this is a wonderful book for any adult reader.
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K.M. Soehnlein is the author of the new novel ROBIN AND RUBY, the story of a brother and sister during one eventful weekend in the summer of 1985. The novel follows the main characters from Soehnlein's debut, THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS, winner of the Lambda Award for Gay Men's Fiction. Soehnlein's novel YOU CAN SAY YOU KNEW ME WHEN, was praised by The L.A. Times's Regina Marler as "a dense, enjoyabl...more
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Robin and Ruby You Can Say You Knew Me When

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