Maddy has given up all hope of ever being able to have a normal social life or following her dream of becoming a photographer. She is committed to sharing the care of her autistic sister Bee with her solo Mum.
Bee doesn’t only suffer from autism but also has epileptic seizures which mean that she needs looking after 24 hours of the day. She loves her sister and wouldn’t want it any other way but it’s a tough call for one so young.
One of Maddy’s biggest regrets is that she will never be able to have a normal conversation with her sister.
Albert works as a stable hand at a riding school. His aim in life is to get away from his abusive father who continually rants and raves at him and puts him down. As soon as he can save up enough money he plans to head off to Bali to become a surf instructor.
But when Maddy brings Bee to the stables for Riding for the Disabled lessons she reminds him of his last love, Kate, who recently jilted him and he is immediately attracted to her.
If it wasn’t for Maddy’s workmate Kyle who forces her to accept Albert’s invitation to dinner their relationship might never have got off the ground. Maddy brings Bee along to the restaurant as well.
Often when people meet Bee they look fearful or pity her or treat her almost like an inanimate object like a pot plant but not Albert. He greets her in a normal way and is not fazed by her erratic behaviour or the way she tries keeps repeating bits of stuff she hears from movies or cartoons.
This helps to win Maddy over and before too long they are smitten with each other. But their lives continue to be complicated not only by Bee but also their families.
Albert’s mother seems to be gradually removing herself from her difficult husband by spending time in the laundry having a wine. Albert catches her sitting there with her CD player on the washing machine listening to a raunchy audiobook. But he promises to keep it a secret from his Dad. She loves and appreciates her son but neither of them can stand up to his father.
Maddy’s mother, although she is a loving parent is a bit of a free spirit and less sensible than her oldest daughter. She conceived Bee after a drunken fumble in a back alley with a stranger who she met in a bar after a Madonna concert. But she does her best to take good care of her daughters
Money is very short and she has to rely on Maddy’s contribution to cover very basic household expenses. She feels very guilty about this and the fact that Maddy has to take so much responsibility for Bee that it is curtailing her social life.
And then there’s Albert’s older brother who is very much like his Dad which means he and Albert don’t hit it off at all.
But Maddy’s and Albert’s love continues to blossom until there is an unexpected event that will change all their lives forever.
Tammy Robinson is a young Mum who lives in the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. Her first six books were published on Amazon and she had developed a loyal following. Then Differently Normal caught the eye of Hachette, a major publisher, which is a step up and an exciting development.
The fact that Differently Normal is set in New Zealand is not very obvious. There is just one reference to an aged and twisted pohutukawa tree and one to a photograph of a fantail. Her strength is in creating dialogue and this does have a distinctly Kiwi flavour. She has a real flair for capturing the kind of banter teenagers use when talking to each other.
Many chic lit novels are a little too light and frothy to hold my interest but there were plenty of twists and turns in this heart-warming but poignant story which made me want to keep reading to the end.
And the way in which Bee’s autism, and how this affected the lives of those around her, was explored in such a sensitive way added depth to the story.
Title: Differently Normal
Author: Tammy Robinson
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, Avid traveller, writer & passionate home cook