Secrets in a Normal Family

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The Sandells are about as respectable as it gets. Father Adam is a pastor and mother Ulrika is a defense attorney. This gives them interesting perspectives when their 18-year-old daughter Stella is accused of murder and arrested. Of course, their main concerns are whether Stella can be saved and how she got to this dark place.

The novel takes place in a college town in Sweden, where everyone meets everyone eventually. Stella and her best friend Amina have met a 32-year-old businessman who charms them, even as they're aware that this isn't quite right. This man is found brutally stabbed to death in a park. As we learn, Stella has made some bad decisions before. She has a fiery temper and is impatient with the rest of the world, especially her father. The only person who receives her complete respect and devotion is smart, sensible Amina, with whom she played the sport handball, attended classes, and shared adventures.

Much has been made of the structure of A Nearly Normal Family. Adam, the devastated father, begins the narration as Stella is in court. I found that this part plodded a bit. Stella's section, in the middle, is far more lively, much like Stella herself. Ulrika, at the end, wraps it up. However, as one gets to know the Sandells, this structure makes sense. All three characters lie, do questionable things, and justify their actions, at least to themselves. It becomes difficult to tell what, exactly, happened, and what Stella's (and Amina's) role was in all of it. But that's what makes it fun!

I should note that as a woman who grew up in the American South with conservative Evangelical Christianity, Adam's role as a pastor and relationship with Jesus and Christianity were striking to me. There are many cultural differences here. Stella is permitted to be outspokenly atheist. While the profession of pastor is considered respectable to the people around the Sandells, it's also painted as a bit eccentric. Though I am now a liberal member of the United Church of Christ, I felt my own cultural biases keenly as I read these descriptions of faith. I state this for other Americans who may come from a similar background.

I received an ARC of A Nearly Normal Family from Celadon Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.