Normal Family: Volume One Normal Family Trilogy by Don Trowden takes us back to the end of the sixties, to an American being torn apart by cultural unrest, generational change and an extremely unpopular war half-way across the world in South East Asia. Ten-year-old Henry Prendergast is growing up in what is becoming an increasingly dysfunctional family, trying to come to terms with why he doesn’t seem to fit into his family. Through a series of four disastrous family, holiday, celebrations including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Henry slowly discovers that everything and everyone he thought brought stability into his life is either leaving or changing dramatically. Looming large over Henry’s father and entire family is his over-achieving Grandfather – a well-known, wealthy and feted explorer and author. Henry’s mother is not only hiding a difficult past she is also trying to come to terms with her role as a wife and mother. It seems her slide into depression and mental instability is only exacerbated by the dysfunction of her family. Henry’s siblings provide little relief to his confusion; his elder brother being a “genius” and heading off to Yale at the mere age of fifteen and his elder sister appearing to be on the verge of anorexia. For Henry, at ten, life is simply an incredibly confusing state of being.
I found Normal Family: Volume One Normal Family Trilogy to be an extraordinarily insightful view into the psyche of a child growing up in a dysfunctional environment at a time of great social change. Perhaps it was the fact that I was, like young Henry, just ten-years-old also in 1969 but whatever the reason, author Don Trowden’s book absolutely resonated with me. The world, not just America was changing dramatically in 1969 and as children we looked at the uproar with wide open eyes not understanding at all why our solid bases we thought our lives were grounded on were slowly being chipped away. I absolutely could identify with Henry’s bemusement at it all. I chuckled when Henry began to wonder if he was adopted as he couldn’t grasp being genetically related to these weird people that made up his family. The characters in the story loomed large and real in the narrative. I particularly enjoyed the interaction and eye-rolling comments from both Grandfather and his long-suffering but clearly deeply loving wife. The stepmother also was pushed to the extreme of the “evil witch” and I appreciated that also although it was nice to have her children able to soften the effect on young Henry. This was a fantastic read and I absolutely loved it. As the first in a proposed trilogy, I absolutely look forward to see where this takes us next. I am making an assumption there is an element of an autobiographical nature in this story and I appreciate the catharsis this may have for the author, if this is the case.