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We Are Totally Normal

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Nandan’s got a plan to make his junior year perfect. He’s going to make sure all the parties are chill, he’s going to smooth things over with his ex, and he’s going to help his friend Dave get into the popular crowd—whether Dave wants to or not. The high school social scene might be complicated, but Nandan is sure he’s cracked the code.

Then, one night after a party, Dave and Nandan hook up, which was not part of the plan—especially because Nandan has never been into guys. Still, Dave’s cool, and Nandan’s willing to give it a shot, even if that means everyone starts to see him differently.

But while Dave takes to their new relationship with ease, Nandan’s completely out of his depth. And the more his anxiety grows about what his sexuality means for himself, his friends, and his social life, the more he wonders whether he can just take it all back. But is breaking up with the only person who’s ever really gotten him worth feeling “normal” again?

From Rahul Kanakia comes a raw and deeply felt story about rejecting labels, seeking connection, and finding yourself.

288 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 31, 2020

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About the author

Rahul Kanakia

30 books197 followers
Rahul Kanakia’s second novel, WE ARE TOTALLY NORMAL, is out in March 2020 from HarperTeen. Her first book, ENTER TITLE HERE (Disney '16) was a Junior Library Guild selection and was reviewed by the New York Times. Her stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, F&SF, and others. She lives in San Francisco with her wife and daughter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 821 reviews
Profile Image for Anniek.
1,766 reviews650 followers
May 17, 2020
This is one of the most problematic books I've read in a while, and I'm so mad about it.

EDIT: Look, the author and a few other people have said that the MC and the love interest do end up together and that it is a queer book. I'm really not out here to spread misinformation, so I wanted to clear up how I read it. The main character in this book was so manipulative and mistreated the 'love interest' throughout the entire book. Throughout the book, he constantly says that he's actually straight and that he just wanted attention and to get closer to the girls in the book. He says he's "restraightened" by the end. Those comments felt like the truest ones in the book to me. And so I read the ending as: okay, he's just going to go on pretending now, because he liked the attention when people thought he was queer.

EDIT 2: I'm not saying questioning rep is not valid. I would never say that. I've been personally questioning my own sexuality and gender for years now. It's a mess. It's confusing. If this book helped you with that, I'm truly glad for that. I'm not out to cancel a book, especially not a book by a marginalized author. I just wanted to bring some attention to the fact that in my opinion, this book didn't deal with questioning rep at all, because the main character keeps saying he's pretending in a really manipulative way. I think that's really harmful for potential readers, and that's why I wanted to address it.

EDIT 3. Seeing how much this review has blown up, I want to make one final edit. This review should never have gotten this much attention. I am a white queer person reviewing this book and talking about how it personally affected me. It can be true that this book both hurt me and is important for queer people of colour at the same time. Just because the book was harmful to me, doesn't mean it will be harmful to everyone. My review certainly does not speak for everyone. Intersectionality is a really important aspect here, and that's why I ask you to take the time to also read reviews by QPOC, like the ones linked here: CW's review and Shri's review.

This book immediately wasn't off to a good start for me. I found it very sexist and predatory towards the girls in the book, and I just have no patience for that. I also immediately disliked one of the MC's friends, he was such a bully. These weren't my main problems, though.

The book was also just very poorly written. Overall, I felt like it didn't give enough context. It was hard to follow the sequence of events, and the writing style felt very forced and awkward. This was still not my main problem, though.

My main problem is this. Before you start this book, you need to know it's not the queer coming-of-age story it's advertized to be. Instead, we spend a whole book following the main character as he's physically repulsed when kissing another guy, but questioning his sexuality anyway. It ends with the main character concluding that he is, in fact, straight.

Now, I'm not saying it's not a good thing to question your sexuality, even when you end up realizing you're not queer. I'm just saying this went about it in a completely wrong way. It all just felt really insensitive, and I didn't think it was handled well at all. At the end, the MC ends up saying he's "restraightened". Honestly? It felt like this book was making fun of queer coming-of-age stories. It was a manipulative clusterfuck of a book and I hated every second. I guess I can see how this could have been a really profound novel about questioning and labels and identity, and just the confusion of figuring out who you are. But this was all so badly handled, and I read so many outright problematic statements.

Why did I think it was all so badly handled? Because this is not actually a book about a main character questioning his sexuality. Instead, it's a book about the main character pretending to question his sexuality to get closer to a girl. Basically, he admits to having pretended to be queer so he could get closer to a girl he liked. Here's the quote: "Part of me thinks, I don't know - maybe - perhaps I did this to get closer to Avani [the ex-girlfriend]. Like, like, like, I wanted to be her friend. And this was the only way to get past her guard." He later says the same thing to Dave (the 'love interest'), and he confirms that he already knew and that it isn't a big deal. How fucked up is that? It was such a predatory thing to read, 'let me pretend I'm gay so the girls will trust me'.

On top of this, it's also once again a situation where we have to reiterate that labels are for identity, not action. If the main character isn't queer, it doesn't matter what he does, he isn't queer and nor is the book!

It was especially hard to believe that the main character was questioning his sexuality, apart from the fact that he was actually pretending to be queer to be manipulative, because it's really hard to see the signs for that when the main character keeps saying throughout the book, from the start, that he's not actually into Dave and that he doesn't actually think he's into guys. I really fail to see how this would be questioning representation, when there aren't really any actual signs of the main character thinking he might be gay.

Another problem is that the main character never seriously considers he might be bisexual. It's clear that he is into his ex-girlfriend, so to me, that would feel like a more logical conclusion if the MC would actually believe he's into guys. But this thought is never seriously entertained, and that felt a lot like erasure. It's like the MC had to determine he's either gay or straight, without considering any other options. There's also a pretty biphobic statement: "I was the most confused human being on earth! This went beyond bisexuality into seriously sick, twisted, stupid shit." This reads to me like the MC thinks bisexuality is being confused, and also that he thinks bisexuality is already a little sick, twisted and stupid. He's just personally even more so.

If this actually had been a novel about an MC honestly questioning his sexuality, I would be more inclined to think he was biromantic asexual. And someone even suggests that to him, but he shoots it down immediately, "because all of that stuff just felt like words". Which feels a special kind of shitty. It goes on to imply he can't be asexual because he masturbates, which... Gotta love spreading misinformation.

Actually, I would even be inclined to think the MC might be a trans girl who briefly thinks she's gay before realizing she's actually trans. Why? Because the MC keeps hinting at wanting to be like the girls in the book, and, for instance, when having sex with Dave, he doesn't just imagine himself having sex with his ex-girlfriend to get more into it, he actually imagines himself as his ex-girlfriend to get more into it. All this to say I could definitely see the potential here of a novel exploring someone's gender and sexuality, but that was just not what this book was. I thought it was all handled really poorly, if it was handled at all.

And like I already said, there were so many outright problematic aspects, some of which I've already mentioned, and some of which I'll get into now. For instance, there are quite a lot of lowkey homophobic comments. One that stood out to me was the main character saying some people were just "really gay". And not because of any definition of homosexuality, but because they wore clothes that fit really well (?), had soft hair (??), and had a sort of natural grace (???). Fellas, is it gay to have fluffy hair?

An actual quote from the book: "The real problem is I don't think I even like guys! It's just that sometimes I'm out with Pothan and Ken [best friends], and I'm like, This is boring. I am boring. And being gay seems like a big, shiny way of escaping it all." He then goes on to say that this (being gay) is not actually who he is, and that it's a ploy for attention. And this is at 30% in. When the MC has already said multiple times he's not into guys. I thought this particular quote was really fucked up, and this was just one example. There were multiple comments like this. I just can't.

Another quote from the book: "He touched my thigh while I drove; I felt a wave of disgust that made me think, Oh, so this is what normal guys feel when another dude touches them." Excuse me? There's a lot to unpack here, from the toxic masculinity to calling straight guys "normal". Please take a moment to consider the title, and then consider that this is a book about a guy who thinks he might be gay for a while, and then realizes he's straight. Or, in the words of the author, "normal". So: We Are Totally Normal actually means We Are Totally Straight?? And straight is seen as normal?

I'm terribly sorry for writing such a long, ranty and unstructured review, but I hope it was helpful. I would never tell you not to read this book, but please do so with care and please be aware of what you're getting into.
Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,696 followers
February 23, 2020
EDIT: My full review is now up on my blog, The Quiet Pond.

Important clarification about this book: Nandan is "not straight" by the end. I have read this book, and this is completely false. Nandan is queer. This is a queer book. Anyway, I'm writing a full review of this as we speak.


Wow. Wow wow wow. This book is not only one of the most unique books I've read, it's also one of the most... real books on relationships, social dynamics, and questioning sexual identity I've read.

- Follows Nandan, an Indian-American teen who questions his sexual identity and develops an intimate yet hesitant relationship with Dave, an awkward Indian-American teen.
- This book does not follow the conventional structure of most books where there is a clear conflict and clear resolution - which is what makes it fantastic but I can see, unfortunately, why this will turn some readers off from it (which is a shame because this book works so well as what it is).
- Rather, the book is filled with intense and authentic interactions where meaning and the story's underlying substance can be found in between the lines.
- The relationships in this story are incredible, and how Kanakia writes high school social structures was amazing. How some people care deeply about the power structures in high school, the inauthentic yet candid ways people stay friends with people - not because they like them but because belonging is intoxicating, and being someone who matters more so.
- I'd argue this is not a romance, so don't go in thinking that this is some cute YA romance, because it isn't. This book is not pretty, but that's what makes it so... profound without trying hard to be. Nandan and Dave's relationship is at times frustrating and at times heart-warming, their dynamic dictated by Nandan's experience of questioning his identity.
- To be honest, this has one of the most real depictions of sex I've read. There's nothing graphic, but the fact that sex isn't always an intimate, amazing, and mind-blowing thing? Finally, someone said it.

Thank you to the author for providing me a copy of the book. This does not impact or influence my opinions of this book in any way.

Trigger/content warning:
Profile Image for Sophie Elaina.
346 reviews316 followers
October 31, 2022
I’m rather disappointed. This was really not what I was expecting at all. There were some very problematic elements regarding the way the main character treats other people in addition to some very clear instances of sexism and manipulation. It’s okay to have an unlikable main character but the writing was just not good enough to pull it off. At times I could see the good shining through and honestly understand what the author was attempting to do. But everything about this was all over the place.

I know some people will probably really love what this book does and have a completely different take away from it than I did. Life’s messy and uncomfortable and that is very much what this book is. But I’m sad to say that I just didn’t like it. And I want to leave a warning and let you know to be aware that there are problematic things in this book if you’re going to read it.
Profile Image for Chelsea (chelseadolling reads).
1,478 reviews19.3k followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
April 14, 2020
DNF @ ~20%: Unfortunately, this one was not for me :( I didn't like the writing style and I reeaally didn't like the characters. It may work for someone else, but it just did not do so for me.
Profile Image for Mariah.
1,184 reviews448 followers
Want to read
July 26, 2019
If this keeps up, imagine how magical it'll be to walk into bookstores 5 or 10 years from now and seeing homosexual couples on book covers as often as you see hetersexual ones.
Profile Image for sarah.
361 reviews11 followers
February 25, 2020
Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, that sucked. I have never read something more offensive and disgusting than this. Bisexuality is unheard of, internalised homophobia comes out as repulsive behavior and encouraging straight people to play with gay people's feelings just because they could. Fuck this book for pretending that gays aren't being abused and killed to this day, fuck this book for trying to objectify gay people especially gay men, and making it seem as if it's trendy and fun to be gay.

The book has no plot whatsoever; it is just a bunch of dumb teenagers getting drunk, being awkward, and breaking each others hearts. I don't care that the main characters end up together, David deserves better he does not deserve to he forced to come out to his less-accepting parents just because his boyfriend wanted him to.
Imagine actually writing a book with a cover illustrating a gay couple on the cover and spending the entire, useless length of the book talking about he's disgusted by gay sex, including gross descriptions of his partner's lips, because of how repulsed he is. And still, he has sex with him anyway.
He leads him on and uses him in a stupid highschool scheme to gain his ex girlfriend's trust.
The ex girlfriend. Oh my god. He actually says he imagines his ex girlfriend while having sex with his current boyfriend. Over and over again. He also uses his 'queer card' as a way to gain girls' trust and get into their private groupchats and have sleepovers with them while still internally thinking and identifying like a straight man. That is predatory, pervert behavior and I'm just sickened to think a member of the LGBT community wrote this book as proper representation of gay people. Gay people are not predatory and bisexuals are not indecisive and as sickening as the main character is.
He even refuses to explore other options in his sexuality, not bisexuality, and not even asexuality when he absolutely loathes both straight and gay sex and could not 'get it up'. I'm going to include some of the quotes from this book and will remove if the publisher asks me to. I just need the people to see how gross this is. Lines like " I'm just a straight guy going on a queer adventure" and " I felt a wave of disgust that made me think; Oh, so this what normal guys feel when another dude touches them". Wow just... wow. And of course the character mentioning that he's 'restraightened'.

Another thing: at the end of my ebook arc, the author who is a trans woman, is talked about in the wrong pronouns and the picture used is one I assume is before transition. I find that offensive on her behalf. Anyways, I'm grateful I got an arc of this but it is completely unacceptable.
Profile Image for Lydia Gompper.
6 reviews4 followers
February 15, 2020
This book spoke to every socially anxious, over-analytic, self-conscious, bisexual thought high school me ever had.

It was nuanced. It didn't spell everything out for the reader, because Nandan was having trouble spelling things out for himself. He's uncertain. He's juggling intricate, fraught social dynamics. And his sexuality is something that he's equal parts confused about and constantly aware of as a piece of social currency (but that awareness, in and of itself, is something he finds shameful about himself). This isn't a book filled with dramatic realizations; it's a bit meandering, a bit back-and-forth, a bit frustrating in exactly the way high school itself was.

I'll freely admit this isn't the book for everybody. It doesn't have all that much of a plot, for one thing. Things happen, and things change, and people get together and go to parties and have sex and gossip and argue, but ultimately there's a sense of whatever-ness about it all. The romance, certainly, wasn't anything like the all-encompassing, soul-mate-ish relationships we often see in YA. In fact, the book wasn't really a romance at all, but a character study. And for me, that was a plus. It felt like a real chunk of an actual teenager's life.

I loved Nandan. So much of what he's worrying about in this book is stuff I labored over as a teen (though, if I'm being honest, he and I sat at distinctly different places in our schools' social hierarchy). I wanted the best for him, but most of all I wanted to see him grow. To become better. To be freer. His voice was so smartly executed, both totally self-aware and frustratingly blind. He was funny. He was youthful. He was flawed and likeable and so, so freshly crafted.

But almost as smart as Nandan's characterization was the depiction of the social dynamics of high school. This book just saw the truth of social interaction in a way that went beyond clichés, beyond cliques, beyond the basics of leaders and followers and friend groups. There was shifting power, the subtle importance of a single word. Everyone trying, but trying not to look like they were trying. People who had that certain something that made everyone their friend, and people who had even more of it.

Kanakia writes high school in a way that's true. Absolutely, insightfully true.

Also, We Are Totally Normal contains this line, which is pure brilliance:

"If there's one thing I knew about the world, it's that I could never have a conversation with someone who says 'the data are' instead of 'the data is.'"

Twitter | Bookstagram
Profile Image for shri (sunandchai).
90 reviews87 followers
July 13, 2019
Read the full review here on my blog!

First of all, I want to thank HarperTeen for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Second of all, I read this book in about an hour and a half. I was stuck on a flight from Philadelphia to Minneapolis and intended on sleeping for most of it because I was sleep deprived as hell after a really long week, and I completely forgot to sleep on that flight. I forgot to recline my seat. I barely heard the flight attendant ask me if I wanted something to drink. And when I landed in Minneapolis, I rushed to my next terminal–not to catch my connecting flight, but to sit down as quickly as possible because I needed to cry.

We Are Totally Normal by Rahul Kanakia is not a romance, despite what its gorgeous cover may indicate. Neither is it a typical contemporary YA coming-of-age story either. Of course, it encompasses both of these elements, but there is one big aspect that sets it apart from the rest of these genres–this book remembers how to be a teenager.

Seriously, I relived my life from 13-18 years old all in one sitting, and it shook me to the core.

Normally, I review books with the criteria of Plot, Characters, Setting/Worldbuilding, and Writing Style. However, I’m not going to do that here because this template is just not appropriate for this kind of book. Instead, I’m going to break We Are Totally Normal into its overarching themes and discuss how Kanakia’s execution of each one lent itself to the uniqueness of We Are Totally Normal.
Profile Image for andrea ✨.
82 reviews48 followers
Want to read
July 14, 2019
all these gay books with the same-ish style of beautifully drawn covers are coming out in the near-ish future and i am heRE fOR iT.
Profile Image for nat.
71 reviews274 followers
March 14, 2021
I haven’t done a bullet review in a million years, but I have quite a lot of thoughts on this one so here we go. Also, before I start this review, I want to say a few things:

1) I had no idea of the ‘controversy’ surrounding this book until the day I decided to read it. If I was aware of it, I probably would not have requested the ARC because I know I would most likely have not enjoyed this book.
2) There are a lot of reviews here saying the main character and the love interest, the two boys on the cover, are both desi—this isn’t true!! The MC is Indian-American and it is implied the love interest is Chinese-American. I would hate for somebody to be expecting that rep but not receive it.
3) This book is not a fluffy, ‘feel-good’ contemporary. I had originally thought that (I mean, the cover looks exactly like it would be) and I think most people interested in this book had thought so as well which is why I think this book might have received the criticisms it did. I personally do not interpret this book as problematic, but there are a lot of instances of internalized homophobia, and just really sus stuff I loathed reading as well that could potentially be harmful to others.

So anyway!

- Despite my low rating of this book, I wouldn’t call it a bad one - it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a book about a teenager discovering his sexuality as he ensues a relationship with a boy for the first time, and for me that aspect I did like. It’s a very real narrative of the exploration of sexuality and I think if I had read this book when I was deeply struggling with internalized homophobia—something this book doesn’t directly tackle but is dealt with throughout—I would have appreciated it more. There’s also a point in the book where the main character thinks he is straight and that he was pretending to be otherwise for various reasons, which is something which honestly? I had definitely thought about when I first started to realize I wasn’t straight.

- This book is very ambiguous with labels, for the main romance. Throughout the book, the main character Nandan grapples with his identity; but it isn’t necessarily the center of the book. He isn’t in a rush to figure out what he is (not that doing so a bad thing—labels are a very personal thing for me) – yes, it is discussed, but there’s this contentedness with the place he’s in concerning his sexuality. There aren’t many queer YA books with questioning rep and I think it’s very important for books like this to exist because this is such a real experience for so many queer people.

- I hated the aspect of social statuses / the friend dynamics in this book—it literally DID NOT MAKE SENSE. There are so many times where Nandan will be hanging out with his friends and there’s something about how one of the characters in the conversation will be like noting the environment around them and gaining power in the moment or looking into somebody’s eyes to ‘dominate them’ and nobody does this?? I don’t think any teenager on this earth is that serious about their social life. Also, the main characters would pretty much party all the time and it was standard for them to be drinking in copious amounts every day. Most of the characters are suggested to be 14-16 years old, as well, so knowing that especially, rubbed me the wrong way.

Additionally, on the topic of characters, I feel as if for some of them the author decided to take one personality trait and run with it, Pothan most particularly. Which, I find really strange because he was supposed to be one of Nandan’s best friends, but was the blandest character out of all of them?? Don’t even get me started on Ken, Nandan’s other ‘attempted’ best friend. He had Z E R O character development, if you would even say he had character to start with. The one person in this book I may have liked the most is Henry, if he wasn’t there only to further Nandan’s narrative. Also, all the straight girls in this book were pretty much the type to live only for the sake of having a ‘gay best friend’ which makes me 🤢🤢

- I know this is an ownvoices book and everyone has different experiences for different topics, but as a QPOC teen, I found some of the content in this book concerning queer people to be extremely stereotypical and disgusting. I don’t even feel like discussing all the things I found wrong in this book because I simply just do not care enough about this book to do so, but I’ll leave two quotes (the first one is just a mess stacked upon another each paragraph):

“Then I remembered Hen, reaching out to me through the darkness and silence. I admired him. He had burst onto the scene during our freshperson year—we’d gone to the same middle school, but before coming out he’d been nobody. Maybe it wasn’t politically correct to say, but being gay was pretty cool—it was a specialness, a separateness, that couldn’t be challenged.
Carrie was the same. Though for her it’d been harder. When she told people she was bisexual, they’d thought she only wanted attention, but ever since getting with Gabriela, the Holy Redeemer girl, she’d slowly formed her own unique reputation.
Sometimes I wondered if maybe I was a little bit gay. The idea of being with a guy didn’t make me sick, like it seemed to make some guys. Sometimes I thought it’d be fun. Different. Easier.
Yet at the same time the idea of coming out felt shameful. It’d be so needy. So dishonest. I’d mentioned once to Pothan that I liked Hen’s social role—his position at the intersection of every group—and Pothan had been like, ‘You drama queen, you’d just love being gay, wouldn’t you?’ And I’d flushed very red. Pothan had this way of seeing directly into my lightless core.

“Maybe it’s a stereotype, but some people are just really gay. They have soft wavy hair, they buy clothes that fit really well, and they move with natural grace.”

Yeah, it’s definitely something. This kind of stuff pretty much occurred from the start of the book to the end and I hate it because at all of the times it was so unnecessary and could have been avoided completely ://

Overall, even though I was far from loving We Are Totally Normal (let’s not even talk about that title), it’s certainly not the worst book I’ve ever read. I believe this is a book which will mean a lot for so many people—queer teens of color exploring their identities in particular—but I just wasn’t one of them. Please don’t let my rating dissuade you from reading this! Again, it merely wasn’t my cup of tea.

representation: queer Indian-American main character (#ownvoices) w/ queer Chinese-American LI
content warnings: homophobia, outing, underage drinking and drug use

I received an e-ARC of this book from HarperTeen, a HarperCollins imprint, via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sami.
81 reviews274 followers
April 29, 2021
CW for this review: swearing, discussions of sex

For once I would love it if white people shut up about QPOC books. It's incredibly frustrating to see such an amazing book have such a low average rating because some people don't want to use their critical thinking skills.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was that the writing was a bit sloppy until about 20% in and I didn't really understand any of the friendships dynamics. But that’s a minor complaint and I have no others.

But let's get into some of the absolutely RIDICULOUS claims of problematic content that others have been spewing.

1) Nandan does NOT end up straight at the end of this book (seriously, how the fuck did you miss that.) THIS IS A QUEER BOOK!!

2) Nandan is not predatory or creepy towards women at all. But I appreciate the effort you put into using the stereotype about Indian men there. At least be original if you're gonna be racist.

3) This book is about questioning your sexuality. It is not a cute YA romance story. It is messy and uncomfortable, much like discovering your sexuality can be. That doesn't make it problematic

4) Sorry but if you though Nandan was manipulative because he was question his sexuality, fuck right off. Comphet is a bitch and he was pretty honest about it with his friends (specifically Mari). Nandan frequently talks about the affection he feels for Dave even though sometimes he doesn’t feel it. And let's be real, which 17 year old feels constant affection for their significant other. Even at 20 I don't always feel it. There are times that people feel disgusted by physical affection and that's okay. I don't understand why someone would take that as being manipulative. Because when Alex from Red White and Royal Blue was in denial about his bixsexuality it was "cute", "funny", and "a total himbo moment". The double standard for queer white authors and queer authors of color is ridiculous.

5) Literally every quote that I have seen on other reviews has been taken out of context for you to believe this book is problematic.

(total side note but I went digging because I was that upset at the bad reviews and I find it incredibly ironic that people who gave this book 1 star gave A Court of Thorns and Roses 2,3,4,5 stars. Says a lot about them I think)

All in all, I would give this book 4 stars. I only gave it 5 to combat the awfulness in the reviews. I of course also think to each their own. If you didn't like it, just say that. Don't go spreading blatant misinformation and discourage others from reading a good book.
Profile Image for Fari .
375 reviews73 followers
March 24, 2020
3.5* rounding up this time

Thank you to hccfrenzy at harpercanada for providing me with an arc to review !

The MC does not decide he is straight in the end! Everybody truly took one reviewer’s interpretation of the book and completely ran with it, huh? It’s so, so unfair to read one white reviewer’s take on a book saying it’s problematic and in turn slander the author and say nobody should read this and give it one star before it’s even released. Please read more QPOC’s reviews of the book, including those who loved it, hated it or are down the middle of the road like me.

Now onto the review.

I think this can be a very uncomfortable read. Nandan truly has some shit to work through and maybe doesn’t treat everybody fairly. But also, it’s so interesting and rewarding to see such unfiltered thoughts. Toward the start of the book, Nandan mentions someone is ‘very gay’ and mentions very stereotypical reasons for it and that made me genuinely deeply uncomfortable but also, I’m certain every single one of us has had thoughts that are homophobic/transphobic/racist/ableist/colourist or other because it’s so ingrained in us. It’s an active job to unlearn stereotypes or hatred. Seeing into someone’s mind is always going to be messy and it’s fair to be uncomfortable with that but it reflects reality. This became unrelated to the book but wow, that part made me think so much after I’d finished reading. I don’t think the author endorsed stereotypes but rather acknowledge that they very much exist in our culture and every single person buys into them, even a little.

Nandan is in denial throughout the book. Many queer people tell themselves the lie that they are, in fact, straight and cis. Nandan insisting he’s straight was genuinely one of the most relatable things for me. I felt like an imposter, like ‘yep maybe i’m faking it bc i just wanna fit in’ which made absolutely 0 sense bc i can’t actually tell anybody and it’s dangerous and there was nowhere for me to fit into lamao me sitting there convincing myself i’m str8 was . a time. And seeing Nandan basically do the same thing was sad and relatable and hilarious in a sad and relatable way and it really, really hurt to see that aspect trashed so thoroughly.

There are a few things that I don’t have many thoughts on anymore but i’d written down while reading:
- very interesting how the straight girls love the gay best friend shit but also the queer girl and her girlfriend are sidelined
- Nandan’s interest in hanging out with his ex gf was so interesting to me and I feel like i couldn’t completely understand the nuance but it reminded me of how gay dudes can sometimes be more inclined to have women as friends or run in their circles? idk idk
- this book was messy and it’s meant to be but sometimes it felt like it wasn't purposeful? but also that’s how real life is. but also this is a novel and it made me lose interest if i couldn’t figure out why a character was doing things or their motivations
- i didn’t really care about or like any of the characters. I was in high school a year ago and would have be friends with none of them (maybe Dave? hm)

All in all, I very much identified with aspects of Nandan’s identity and questioning. Questioning your identity is confusing and messy and some aspects can be deemed problematic to some but it still makes people who they are and just . give it a chance instead of being filled with hate over one damn review.


not only is there a gay couple on the cover, the MC is South Asian! Written someone named Rahul, so common in my world but rare to see on a cover like this. i haven’t even read the book but my closeted ass just might burst into tears
Profile Image for Dany.
263 reviews86 followers
February 17, 2020
Highschool experience from a South Asian main character's point of view.

Edit : I'm editing this review now because I feel like this needs to be said. Questioning is a part of LGBTQ community. Everyone interprets their questioning differently. Nandan is a great character and this is just a part of his high school and even a smaller part of his life.

Not every coming out story is clean . Some of us have it messy. Questioning everything we thought we knew is just part of growing up. And Nandan is handling it the best he can. Don't let other critic reviews sway you. This is an amazing book and deserves to be loved.

Review :

Nandan , living with his mom always feels put of place. When he ends up with his sort of crush Dave alone in his apartment , they hook up and become a thing.

The plot , theme , Characterisation couldn't be more relatable. I could connect with most of the story and I'm pretty sure fresh High school graduates can relate even more.

We are totally normal is a curated version of 13-18 life all around the world.

Thanks Edelweiss and Harpercollins for granting me with a review copy. This has not I'm any way affected my opinions.

Full Review to come
Profile Image for Layla (Between the Lines).
608 reviews900 followers
May 24, 2022
*Please do not let my star rating dissuade you from reading this book. It simply was not my cup of tea. I am Kurdish and queer and a big mess in general, but there are QPOC who feel the complete opposite way I feel. This story might be exactly what you need to read right now.

I am so genuinely happy that others can identify with the characters in this story. Every queer story that gets published gives me a little more hope--hope that one day we will all be able to see parts of ourselves in the books we read. I am still waiting for something to come along that reflects my own journey in fluidity (and the internal conflict that always follows), but this did not resonate with me in the way I hoped. My feelings were hurt by some of the comments made by the characters but I understand that these things may not hurt others. For that reason, I have removed my previous review where I called this book "problematic". After some introspection, I have realized that my reading experience would have been different and possibly more enjoyable had I been aware of the book's content beforehand.

Thank you again to HCC Frenzy for sending me an ARC of this book.
Profile Image for Fanna.
992 reviews504 followers
June 18, 2021
this was genuinely quite good. probably unconventional in the line of coming-out books that feature teen characters, considering how chaotic and tangled the tale of finding oneself —and then confidently presenting that self— is played out, but that doesn't necessarily downplay the essence of being queer: questioning one's sexuality in the midst of high school's social structures, friendships, and the young need to belong. basically, it's not very comparable but it's surely worth recommending to anyone looking to read something candid and as authentic as the sweetest queer love stories or the emotionally-driven coming-out-and-of-age tales.

↣ listened to the audiobook on scribd

➵ starting after an entire year of being pretty interested in this and i'm all here to enjoy it for the messy, complicated, and realistic contemporary it hopefully is — as mentioned in this post on my blog.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,655 reviews1,691 followers
April 9, 2020
This wasn't really my thing (marketing fail big time on this one), but I can appreciate it for what it was.

So, firstly, this is NOT a romance. If you came here looking for fluff and cuteness and happily ever afters, you are not going to be pleased with what you get (I suspect this is one reason for the lower ratings; the wrong audience is finding this book, and not understanding or liking what they are finding). What this is, is a coming of age contemporary Questioning novel, capital 'Q' well-earned, because Nandan is one of the most Questioning narrators I've ever read in a queer novel, certainly the most Questioning in mainstream YA. I can't speak to the cultural or racial aspects of the novel, because I am very white and most of the characters in the book seem to be of South Asian descent, including Nandan and Dave.

And honestly, I really liked the questioning aspect of this book. Nandan was a messy, flawed narrator, whose confusion is palpable. This is not a feel-good book, either. Kanakia wanted to explore the realities of questioning sexuality and sexual identity, and in our real world, that includes "problematic" elements. Because people are problematic! There should be space for those kind of stories, too. Nandan is being pulled lots of different ways, and he doesn't know which way to go, or even how to interpret his own emotions and preferences. He's also very resistant to other people trying to put labels on him, even when they might be helpful (as when a friend of his suggests his response to sexual situations might be due to him being on the ace spectrum, or demisexual), because of lots of internalized phobias and shame. He's pretty good at lying to himself.

There is a lot of nuance in his reactions to things. Take this scene after he "comes out" at school (I put this in quotes because at this point even as people begin to see him as gay, he doesn't see himself that way, only that he is in a relationship with Dave, which comes with lots of feelings of protectiveness and affection, as well as conflicting sexual feelings). Nandan is "popular", according to Dave, but doesn't see himself that way, and in fact spends a lot of time in his head dissecting the social nuances of people at his school. There is a lot of conflict between the way he sees other people identifying themselves, and how other people identify him, and it bothers him that other people have images of him that don't conform to his own, especially since everything feels so up in the air for him. Anyway, all that to say, this is an interaction between Nandan and his dude-bro friend Pothan:
His smile flickered between proud, embarrassed, and smug. "I bet you love the attention," he said.

That made me laugh. "That is such a microagression. It's definitely at least a medium-aggression."

"Come off it, bro," he said. "I know you. I know my little Nandy-poo. He's always working the angles. He knows his shit."

Now I smiled. "You motherfucker. Okay, okay. I don't know, maybe . . . "

"You love it."

"Well," I said. "Part of me does. But the other part--"

"No, you love it. You totally love it."

With that, my smile faded. Pothan didn't want to talk about anything

This moment is very telling for the whole book. Nandan does like the attention, but he also doesn't. It makes him uncomfortable, and makes him question things even more. And he's frustrated with his so-called friends a lot, for not allowing him to feel like he can really express the things he wants, on top of sometimes not actually knowing what he wants. He thinks both of those things, plus many others, all at the same time. And the book doesn't spoon feed any of that to you, you have to parse it out yourself.

Lots of other reviews have mentioned that this book doesn't really have a "plot," and if you have a very strict sense of the word "plot," that's technically an accurate thing to say. But this is a character study, and all the movement of Nandan's arc is internal. Nandan has a complicated relationship with his sexuality and sexual identity, and all of that is really started when he hooks up with his friend Dave, that's the inciting incident. And he doesn't come to any black and white answers by the end. In fact, I (and other reviewers, so I'm not alone) got the sense that he is also secretly questioning his gender as well as his sexuality, and hasn't realized it by the end. There are multiple instances throughout the book where Nandan expresses a yearning to be around femaleness and female bodies, in female spaces, and some of his disgust at the sexual acts he's so conflicted about might very well be due to dysphoria. (This also makes sense in retrospect, because the author has come out as trans since the last time I looked at her author bio.)

The reason this book didn't fully click for me almost entirely had to do with the high school setting, and the secondary characters. Nandan is friends with the popular kids, all of whom are very concerned with a lot of drama and social nuance that I hated when I was actually in high school, and still hate now. I solved this problem then by removing myself entirely from social situations that required me to perform for the approval of others, and I solve it now by trying to stay away from contemporary YA that has that drama as its focus. The one saving grace here is that Nandan is so conflicted and critical of the way his "friends" behave. He's always wanting things just to be "chill," and getting frustrated when their expectations of him make him feel like he has to constantly do things he doesn't want to. I found it frustrating, too, and my response would have been to stop associating with all of these people (except for Mari and Dave) and go find the nerds instead.

Anyway, if this sounds up your alley, I urge you to check it out, because it's a thoughtful, complex book that is getting trashed in its ratings, and this upsets me.
Profile Image for caitlin ✶.
207 reviews98 followers
May 13, 2020
i was gonna give this book 4 stars, but two things ruined it for me:

1) the protagonist, nandan, did something horrible (actually, he does a lot of horrible things, but this one was especially bad), and i would've liked AT LEAST ONE PERSON TO GET MAD AT HIM FOR IT.

2) there was a lot of bi erasure.

now that those two things are out of the way, i can't review this book without mentioning the controversy it has caused. i added this book to my tbr, and got approved for an arc of it way before the controversy occurred. i wanted to read it so badly, because i'd heard that its portrayal of high school and questioning your sexuality is raw and real.

and like i was expecting, the portrayal of high school was extremely realistic, at least to my experience as a high school student myself. i actually related so much to how nandan views high school. when he mentioned that there are "leaders" and "followers" when it comes to groups of people, and he's lucky to have been chosen my a leader, I was like, YES, I THINK THE SAME WAY. and even though he and lot of other people in the book are way too obsessed with popularity and how people view them--again--i found this realistic, past me could hardcore relate.

similarly, the portrayal of questioning your sexuality was real. almost too real, honestly. i get why this book raised controversy, because a lot of it is problematic. i read the lines in people's reviews, and i mentally prepared myself for them. having gone through the questioning phase myself, i know that it's a messy path. the threshold of problematic things that i was willing to let by was vast, but the above two things were still too much.

for me, this book's greatest strength lies in the fact that it's so real. in reality, not everyone says the most politically correct things. people use people. discovering your sexuality isn't as simple an experience as it is for some. that's life! i feel like most books present an ideal world where teenagers fall in love and get together in a fairly straightforward manner, where everyone is accepting and understanding of all sexualities. but frankly, that's not life, and i'm glad that this book refuses to sugarcoat anything.

i'm sorry this review isn't very cohesive.:( (but frankly, which of my reviews are?) overall, i'd recommend this to people who think that the high school social structure is superficial, because believe me, this book will get you. i'd also recommend this to people who've questioned their sexuality, especially if their experience with questioning was messy. if you're not either of those people, i honestly wouldn't recommend this book, because it truly doesn't make for a pleasant reading experience.

2 stars, meaning it was just okay
Profile Image for - ̗̀  jess  ̖́-.
584 reviews267 followers
July 20, 2020
Okay: I was vaguely aware of the controversy surrounding this book in that I knew there was controversy, so I picked it up myself to see what was going on. Spoiler: there's a lot going on in this book, much of it not good. While I wouldn't rush to immediately write We Are Totally Normal off as problematic, it was the tone-deaf borderline homophobic comments combined with the poor writing and shallow, manipulative main character that made me feel uncomfortable.

So: the main character. Nandan is a teenage boy who's questioning his sexuality, and it's clear that he has a lot of internalized homophobia and sex repulsion, which is, like, honestly not something we see in books a lot. The thing is--it isn't really challenged. There's a lot going on when it comes to Nandan's sexuality, and it doesn't come to any satisfactory conclusion for the story. Moreover, Nandan is just ... not a good person. I found him incredibly shallow, self-absorbed, and unpleasant to read about. He's manipulative and uncaring and so distant from everyone around him.

None of the other characters really caught my eye either; literally no one--including Nandan--were particularly developed. The entire book was just Nandan and his large group of friends going to parties over and over and over again, which got tiring after about one hundred pages. I couldn't tell any of the friends apart, and I didn't care for any of them either. I also found the writing very choppy and stilted, which definitely contributed to how distant I felt from every single one of the characters. It's clear that this is meant to be a character-focused book, but it was not pulled off well.

I think it is important to show teens questioning their sexuality and still being confused about it at the end. However, it is not necessary to have the protagonist be a jerk and be lowkey homophobic about it or to have a lot of the LGBT characters fall into stereotypes. Ultimately I do not recommend this book.
Profile Image for Nazanin.
395 reviews6 followers
October 13, 2020
This was the WORST gay book, I have EVER read and I've read 1443356323. The writing was really bad and the way the characters talked to each other was so annoying and the main character only went to parties and got drunk which annoyed the hell out of me. I read 50% of it then skipped to the end not wasting my time on it, I really really wanted to like it but 😔✌🏻
Profile Image for booksandzoe.
266 reviews1,686 followers
April 29, 2021
the ratings on this book tanked but unpopular opinion,, I literally loved this book. you aren't SUPPOSED to like the main character. you aren't SUPPOSED to agree with the main character. this book is literally a queer-centric gossip girl: its about rich people living an idealistic life that doesn't truly exist, with no political correctness whatsoever. its absolutely ARTFUL how well this is done. the writing style and voice is amazing, and SO authentic and unique. the book is full of pretty much every -phobia in existence, but its done in a way that makes it clear the reader isn't supposed to agree with said opinions. the author is portraying a lifestyle and doesn't exist, a reality that doesn't exist, but a very real story that maybe doesn't feel realistic to queer people, but to straight people absolutely might!! queer readers may feel frustrated at the books premise,, and you're supposed to! this book depicts the absurdity of cishet thought, and the "straight gaze" of the queer community. the author is a queer person looking inside a narrative straight people may push onto queer people and embracing it. i think most of the reviewers very much missed the point of this book.
Profile Image for julianna ➹.
207 reviews263 followers
May 11, 2021
this book KILLED!!! as in, killed my brain cells.

the entirety of my experience went like this:
the mc of this book: i'm such a terrible, manipulative person :( !!!
me: you're absolutely right ❤️

anyways would not recommend this book in audio format because i definitely did NOT vibe with the narrator's voice; he sounded like he was a brent rivera-type youtuber

i'm literally only 6% of the way through and it seems as though the 2.71 rating is not because this book is controversial, but because this is a badly written book

update: ah, it seems it was a combination of both
79 reviews61 followers
Shelved as 'read-ya'
February 14, 2020
DNF at 50% if you think teenagers, especially teenage girls are superficial, manipulative, twits maybe don't write a book about them. Own voices or not to even suggest that kids might come out for social status is pretty ....something.
Profile Image for kayla (kitay’s version).
284 reviews134 followers
March 8, 2020
2.75 STARS

**Thanks to Edelweiss for providing me with an ARC for an honest review.**

rtc actually doing into detail about how i felt about this book but for now i just wanted to clarify why i rated this so low.

i know there’s a lot of controversy surrounding this book about how sexuality is handled but that’s not what i had a problem with. no two stories or experiences are the same so it’s kind of wrong for us to be like “oh, that doesn’t match our experience so it most be wrong” especially because there has been SO many people who has identified with this. there were times when i really related to nandan when he questioned his sexuality and honestly, it’s something i’m still trying to figure out. but fair warning this is not exactly a romance but rather an intense character study.

my main problem was the writing and plot. the writing was not my cup of tea. and there was no plot which is fine but i feel like the synopsis led me to believe it was something that it wasn’t.

anyways, don’t let my two star review deter you from picking up this book once it’s released because it was worth the read.
Profile Image for TJ.
697 reviews53 followers
April 4, 2020
This was some of the sloppiest representation I’ve ever read. I thought other reviews were exaggerating how bad this was, but then I read it for myself. I walked away feeling like the the message in this book was harmful for the queer community; it’s conveyed by a character who uses his identity to manipulate others and views “being gay” as gaining some sort of popularity boost. I’ve never heard of queerness being described or portrayed this way, and it felt disingenuous to me, personally, especially looking back at my own struggles as a queer man coming out in high school. I... don’t comprehend what the author was trying to convey, and it just didn’t work. At all. The main character was the most unlikable protagonist I’ve read in a while, and the audiobook was so obnoxious too. I also just didn’t care about any of the characters, and that’s a huge problem when there’s no plot at all. I would never recommend this book. 1/5 stars.
Profile Image for Monte Price.
628 reviews1,703 followers
November 6, 2021
I still might come back and revisit my rating of this one, because right now it's feeling like I just want to spite the people.

I will say that enjoy is not a word I would use to describe my level of enjoyment I experienced reading this. And enjoyment is really the needle I use when going to rate something, but I think that this book did do what it set out to do: tell the messy story of Dave and Nandan.

I can't lie and say that it was fun to be in Nandan's head, because it definitely wasn't. It's definitely not the most enjoyable way to present a character struggling to come to terms with identity, but that felt true to how Nandan was experiencing this journey. To the claims that the book presents a gay/straight binary, that's simply not true... Lots of other identities are mention, labels that Nandan explicit doesn't want to use. Not that he really wants to use any label and spend a lot of the book looking for things to just feel like he expects the to feel.

Clearly it's not for everyone, and I would agree that the writing style leaves a lot to be desired, but overall I enjoyed the mess. I thought it was believable and I'm sorry that y'all weren't ready for it.
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