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The New Normal

by Ashley Little

Ashley Little’s debut young adult novel features a teenage protagonist dealing with a series of extraordinary, debilitating losses: of her twin sisters in a car accident, of her parents to depression, and, perhaps most traumatizing in the appearance-conscious world of high school, of her hair to a case of stress-induced alopecia.

Tamar Robinson’s heartfelt story is relayed via first-person narration marked by an endearing balance of sarcasm and self-awareness. While Tamar claims she doesn’t make friends easily because “most people are useless idiots,” she is able to acknowledge how much she cares about what other people think when her hair begins falling out due to her unshakable grief over her broken family. With her self-consciousness about her appearance, love of drama (the dramatic arts, not social-life upheaval), and propensity to swoon over boys, she is a lovable everygirl readers will want to be friends with.

In addition to creating an endearing, believably conflicted protagonist whom it is impossible not to cheer for, Little deftly doles out levity and hardship at just the right times. The novel is mired neither in endless tragedy nor flippant dark humour; it presents a realistic portrayal of a grieving teenage girl who sometimes needs a break from mourning to get excited about prom or fret about whether to hide her new baldness with a wig, scarf, or toque. Readers who favour realism over happy endings will be heartened to know that no strands of hair miraculously appear on Tamar’s head to provide a storybook resolution in the book’s final pages.

With equal parts humour and humility, Little’s novel reads like an Alberta-set love child of Susan Juby and Sarah Dessen, and that’s not a bad thing at all.