Jeanette was adopted by the Wintersons in the sixties and raised in a terraced house in Accrington, Lancashire. The evangelistic Mrs W was eternally disappointed in her, comparing her to the son they never had. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? is the true story behind Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Jeanette’s far from happy childhood.

I do wonder if I would have got more out of this having read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit as the first half felt very close to being a misery memoir, if a well-written one, which is something I like to avoid. Her childhood was depressing by all accounts and I was unsure if some bits were meant to be funny. It felt uncomfortable to be laughing at her mother; I guess it’s a case of you either laugh or cry but I found the whole thing tragic. As I was reading it for book group, I did carry on and felt the book improved once she left home.

The wider we read the freer we become.

Jeanette does have some interesting things to say about books and reading. I liked her secret stash of books and her trips to the library to read English Literature from A to Z. I even enjoyed the parts which dealt with the history of Accrington and the culture of the North at the time. Perhaps it’s just hard for me to relate to her; the gender politics of the Thatcher era are so different from anything I’ve had to deal with. Whilst it’s good to know these things, it’s not really something I enjoy reading about.

I can see why this has been chosen as one of the World Book Night titles. It does show how reading and books can change your life. It will be interesting to see how people take to it with no knowledge of the author.

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