Strangely Normal by Tess Oliver
Reading Level: New Adult/Young Adult
Release Date: May 13, 2013
Pages: 290 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Eighteen-year-old Eden Saxon is the eldest daughter of two hippie parents who conceived her as an unplanned pregnancy in their teens. Her parents are very supportive of Eden, and during their long, happy marriage they also gave birth to two much younger siblings. Unfortunately, as loving as they are, Eden's parents are completely unwilling to hold down steady jobs in the mainstream world because her dad is a rock musician. He never managed to make much money at it, but surrendering his makeshift musical career in order to adequately support his family is not a sacrifice he's ever been willing to make. As a result, his family has been forced to move frequently, wear thrift-shop clothes, and live in dilapidated housing in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Eden loves her adorably immature parents very much, and bears no resentment toward them for their obvious flaws, but she wants far more out of life than the grinding poverty they've subjected her family to. She has kept up her grades and hopes to get a scholarship to college. When the counselor at her high school offers Eden a great opportunity for a summer job which pays a huge amount of money, as well as room and board, in what seems on the surface to have an amazingly easy set of tasks to perform, she jumps at the chance. The counselor is related to rock legend, Nicky King, and she has recommended Eden to serve as a companion to his nineteen-year-old daughter, Finley, in his enormous mansion. Eden's father is awestruck that his own daughter will have the opportunity of a lifetime to associate with his all-time hero, and she has no trouble getting both her parents' blessing to take this job. Though her mother is sad that Eden will not be able to move with them hundreds of miles away for a temporary job situation her parents have taken.
Eden is blown away by the luxury that abounds in Finley's mansion, but Finley herself is extremely welcoming to Eden, and the two of them immediately form a close friendship. Two of Finley's older brothers are also living in their father's home, each of them products of different marriages of their father. The King siblings are clearly close to each other, and both young men are very protective of the emotionally fragile Finley.
Eden has no problem evading the casually flirtatious overtures of the younger King brother, but the older one, Jude, makes it plain that he is suspicious of her by his arrogantly confrontational remarks. Eden resents his rudeness, but unfortunately for her, she can't simply ignore him because he is irresistibly gorgeous and he constantly pins her with a burning gaze filled with sensual heat.
I really liked Eden. She is capable, intelligent, and I admired her self-disciplined focus on her goal to get a college education. Her parents are more like Eden's children than the adults of the family, and I felt rather sorry for her that they were so irresponsible. On the other hand, it was hard not to forgive them their sins of omission when they are so obviously attached to their children.
I liked everything about Jude except for the fact that he smokes. The adult romance genre has not offered protagonists who smoke since the 1980's in support of anti-smoking health goals in this country. Only in rare instances have I seen a smoking hero, and in those cases the heroine states that she would never kiss a smoker, and the guy instantly throws away his cigarettes for good. That did not happen here. Instead, the author glosses over the fact that Jude's smoking would inevitably leave him smelling and tasting like an ashtray--which is anything but sexy. I also found myself wishing that Jude knew self-defense (something that the son of a world-famous rock star could easily have learned) and had shared his knowledge with Eden. It would have led to a much more empowering outcome for the two of them in the climax of the story.
I was impressed with how authentically the author portrays Finley's agoraphobia. Eden's attempts to desensitize Finley to her fear of stepping beyond the boundaries of her safe space on her father's estate is very much in keeping with how agoraphobia is treated.
Finally, I was delighted to discover one of the very few Young Adult/New Adult contemporary romance which actually is a romance, that is, Eden and Jude are on stage together over 50% of the book. I am also happy to report that there is no romantic triangle, and there is an upbeat ending to the romance.
As a New Adult romance, this book is geared toward an audience 17 and above due to the mature subject content of swearing, drinking, drugs, and violence. There is also sex in this story, but unlike the semi-pornographic sex in most New Adult novels these days, the sexual encounters in this novel are romantic in nature rather than lewd, and they are tastefully presented, with no graphic descriptions.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Family Drama Plot: 3
Overall: 4.5 stars rounded to 5 stars