I love reading!! I love all types of books. But I have a particular love for memoirs and biographies. Real life stories are often so much more interesting than those that comes from someone's imagination.  In the case  of North of Normal, it is made all the more interesting to me as I know the author.

North of Normal

For the past 7 or 8 years my girlfriend Cea Person has been writing, editing, refining her memoir.  Cea is one of my favourite people, even if I don't see her enough in recent years. She is a supportive girlfriend who always has your back , gives you an extra push when you need it, or just hangs out when just hanging is what you need. In short she has her stuff together.

While I have called her a friend for close to 15 years, even surviving a weekend as roommates in Vegas together,  I had not heard even a sliver of the "story" behind her unusual childhood.  I knew she had left home early to model and had lived in Europe doing just that into her early 30s. I had heard bits and pieces, probably over too many glasses of wine, about her young years living in a teepee with her hippie family. I had met both of her parents and her Grandmother. But I had very little clue about the depths of her story (like an iceberg below the water), that she reveals in her book.

To say that I raced through the book would be an understatement. I was almost like a Survivor contestant when they win a food reward after 25 days on the Island. I was glued to my e-reader from the day the book was released, racing through 14 chapters on the first day. I was enraptured by her story. I was shocked by the instability of  her early years. And I was thrilled by the intelligent and honest voice by which she writes her story. It was not the voice of an adult telling a story with the overtones and judgement that they feel today. It was the voice of a little girl showing us her world as it was to her at that time - normal.  She didn't need to add those overtones to make her point. In the first 4 pages the starkness of life in a teepee in the wilderness is shockingly clear. On those first pages she sets the stage for the adventure to come. Hot rocks in bed to stay warm and walking out into the cold to go to the shit hole are expected. But riding off on her stick horse into the wilderness on her own, shooting her bow and arrow at a porcupine, starting a fire herself, witnessing people having sex, and dreaming of getting her first pair of underwear when she turns 5 - not what you expect.  But all of which are clearly "normal" for Cea at age 4.

The book takes some larger jumps in time as Cea gets older, particularly after she leaves her family to embark on her modelling career. But as this is largely a story of her relationship with her family and how it shaped her, this felt okay to me. And since many of those later stories would include people alive or part of Cea's life today, and I can appreciate her not wanting to wade too far into that territory.

I am not going to give away any spoilers, but I advise a good supply of Kleenex towards the end of the book as she resolves some things with her family. And I don't dare say anymore.

North of Normal Synopsis

Sex, drugs and . . . bug stew? An utterly compelling tale of survival—of nature, family and genetics

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable existence in California to live off the land in northern Alberta. But unlike most commune dwellers of the time, the Persons weren’t trying to build a new society—they wanted to escape civilization altogether. Led by Cea’s grandfather Dick, they lived in a canvas Teepee, grew pot, and hunted and gathered to survive.

Living out her grandparents’ dream with her teenage mother, Michelle, young Cea knew little of the world beyond her forest. She spent her summers playing nude in the meadow and her winters snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolized. Despite fierce storms, food shortages and the occasional drug-and-sex-infused party for visitors, it was a happy existence. For Michelle, however, there was one crucial element missing: a man. When Cea was five, Michelle took her on the road with a new boyfriend. As the trio set upon a series of ill-fated adventures, Cea began to question both her highly unusual world and the hedonistic woman at the centre of it—questions that eventually evolved into an all-consuming search for a more normal life. Finally, in her early teens, Cea realized she would have to make a choice as drastic as the one her grandparents once had made in order to get the life she craved.

From nature child to international model by the age of thirteen, Cea’s astonishing saga is one of long-held family secrets and extreme family dysfunction, all in an incredibly unusual setting. It is also the story of one girl’s deep-seated desire for normality—a desire that enabled her to risk everything, overcome adversity and achieve her dreams.

(Synopsis and Image via Harper Collins Canada)

Available online at Amazon or Kobo. Or at a local bookstore near you (available now in Canada, as of June 24th in the US).

Disclaimer: This review is, as always, reflective of my own opinion. I have received no compensation for this review. I purchased my own version of the book. Nobody requested that I write this review. And while I know the author,  if I hadn't loved the book I would have written a polite "congratulations" on her facebook page instead.