Title: Do You Want to Be Normal? Author: Koji Kojou Publisher: Koji Kojou / Amazon Language: English Format: Paperback Pages: 293 Genre: Slice-of-Life, Romance, Comedy Publication Date: April 1, 2019
Do You Want to be Normal? is a brand-new, one volume light novel from independent light novelist Koji Kojou. The light novel looks to explore the day-to-day awkwardness many people feel in trying to fit in with society and how abnormal we really are. This is done through the main character William Jackson, who ended up crying in the middle of classes and earned himself the nickname Crybaby Bill that stuck with him even into high school. Looking to break free from that stigma, he looked to join an after-school club. When looking at the club posting board, he noticed a rather simple, yet straightforward note for The Normal Club.
It piqued his interest and he made his way there only to find a girl named Alyssa Silverstein who was dressed up as a mimicking a cat. What he thought was weird at first turned out even weirder when Alyssa had no emotions whatsoever and just spoke in a robotic monotone. William regretfully joined the club only to realize that the club wasn’t even official. Alyssa had simply stolen the key to the chemistry class from the janitor’s closet and let herself in. In fact, the only other club member, Brooke, was homeschooled and not even an official student!
William took it upon himself to get the club registered, even finding new members in his older sister Heather and a rich kid by the name of Sebastian. Together, they embark on a mission to better themselves to where they can shed off their awkwardness and function more normally in society.
Despite the reason for the club, our dysfunctional members make that journey seem pretty impossible. The story itself was very simple and straightforward without many huge diversions or twists but a story like this doesn’t need any of that. Koji took care to add layers to the story through fantastic character development and it was their own individual stories that helped build up and prop up the main story, furthering it along. You could even say that this light novel is about the individual stories of the five club members existing in a meta-story that felt like it took a back seat to them. That’s not a criticism by any means as it worked exceptionally well in this case.
It allowed you to feel a sense of connection to the characters and each one fit into the puzzle of the main story seamlessly. It helped propel the story forward and through their individual developments, you saw the main goal of the story: The ability fit into society and overcome their social awkwardness, get close and closer to its end point.
Speaking of the characters, we were treated to a very well-rounded cast that had their own diverse personalities that really made them stand out!
First up was William Jackson, our main character. Out of everyone in the club, he was probably the only one who was the most normal of them all. He does have his issues, though in the fact that he is a self-conscious thinker and always worried about his image after being given the nickname Crybaby Bill. He just wants to be recognized as something other than that and nothing more. His nickname kind of turned him into a loner so he had hoped that if he could shed off the nickname, he could attain his goal of making friends.
I’m sure we all know someone like this (even if it’s ourselves) so I felt that William was a very relatable main character. He didn’t really seem like a shy, timid type like you think he would be. While he was a bit nervous to take the initiative at times, he still saw it through until the very end. There was one moment during the series where Alyssa wanted each of them to write an essay on each other. Sebastian was in charge of writing one about William. I won’t spoil what it said but I think Sebastian’s essay about him sums up William’s character perfectly. He is just hiding that one thing deep down inside of him that would allow him to obtain his goal!
Alyssa Silverstein was a pretty fun character. Her father was constantly out of the house and her mother rarely visited due to circumstances surrounding her. This left Alyssa alone at home most of the time. Her father was filthy rich so Alyssa ended up being raised by such a method to where all she knew how to think and act was in a monotone way. She tried to understand people by self-teaching herself psychology. This lead to her performing several psychological experiments on the members of the club against their wishes, most of which were absolutely hilarious. Since she had no sense of social interaction, she never really understood the downsides to doing things like this.
She was the type of character that made you hate her for being so cold, love her for being so misunderstood, embarrassed for how inept she could be, and warmed when you discovered the hidden reason behind all of these experiments. From a character who only had one emotion: monotone, she drew out so many emotions through the things that she did as well as her backstory.
Heather Jackson is William’s older sister and is the biggest tomboy character I have ever seen. She carries a straight-laced attitude, tells it like it is, and is not afraid to tell the truth… but even though she seems brash, she’s not. She’s actually very humble and caring. She doesn’t talk down to you but rather tells you things how they are in a gentle way, even if her words are direct. It shows that she has compassion for others… as long as you stay on her good side. She’s very protective of her friends and the bulging muscles on her arms from being a fitness nut is more than capable of carrying out that protection when needed.
Heather was a really fun character in the supporting role. I felt she got just the right amount of “screen time” and was used perfectly in situations that needed her the most. She never felt like she was thrown in for the sake of her being there like so many supporting characters are these days in anime and manga. Each time she was featured, she had a purpose and a meaning to be there and that made her such a great supporting character!
Next up is Sebastian. Sebastian is my all-time favorite boy’s name which I’ve used in both of my book series as well as in other characters I have created. Resisting the urge to name him best character on name alone, we have to take a look into him from an unbiased standpoint… as hard as that may be for me!
Sebastian comes from a rich family but due to an unfortunate circumstance at his previous private school, he is forced to attend public school Sebastian isn’t a rich snob… for the most part. He is pretty down to earth but he does have some moments where you can tell that he was brought up and enjoys some of the finer things in life. Life in a public school seemed to have grounded him and this is what makes him stand out as awkward. He’s experienced the “common life” and is trying his best to fit in but he just can’t let go of some of his rich upbringings. In fact, William becomes of the first people he starts to hang out with on the regular… a sign that he’s really trying to accept his life as it is now.
Sadly, what I said about Heather doesn’t exactly apply here to Sebastian. I did really feel like Sebastian was just one of those characters that were “there.” Sure, he served a purpose but it wasn’t much of one. He was there just to add some lines or be in a scene when he needed to be. He did get some attention during one of the club activities when they went to a mall that could have possibly gone somewhere but that situation was shut down rather quickly and that was the point where I think he just became a typical background supporting character. Had Koji explored this path a little more… perhaps had Sebastian try and try and try until he achieved his goal, it would have made him stand out more. I don’t think there was anything wrong with his character per se, I just felt that he could have had some more attention paid to him.
Brooke also fell into the same boat as Sebastian; however, I think it works for her a lot more than it does for him. Brooke’s character is meant to be in the background. She’s always shy, hiding behind a hoodie, only emerging to snag a chocolate bar or an occasional hamburger. Sure, that doesn’t last forever and she does eventually grow as a character over time but I never really felt the impact of her social awkwardness shell being broken. You could definitely tell she was making progress as the book progressed but she did so in the background to the point where it was very subtle. Rather than pumping your fist in excitement at the clear, definitive moment she broke her shell and began to change, you were just left with a feeling of “oh, I guess she is changing, after all.”
There was also a moment during the mall experiment that I felt could have been explored a lot more. Brooke could have easily been declared best girl and the one we could all ship for William had her character not been relegated to the back. I really think Koji sold himself short by making this a one-volume series. From a character aspect, there was plenty of room for building and exploration that I felt this could have been a two-volume series. I know my words are vague because I really want people to read this with as little spoilers as possible but once you do read it, you’ll understand what I mean once you experience Brooke for yourself. I can sum up Brooke’s character in just two words: missed potential.
Outside of these main characters, we were treated to a couple of comedic relief side characters in the gym teacher Mr. Adams, and the private eye O’Shaughnessy. Mr. Adam is a patriotic nutjob, always spouting the American dream, disliking bottles of soda because they measure their volume using the metric system… crazy stuff like that. He’ll pretty much sign his life away as long as you tell him it’s for America and it was no different when he became The Normal Club’s sponsor. He liked the idea of the club trying to teach kids how to function in society and felt it was something missing from schools (he’s not wrong about that.) He just takes his patriotism a bit too far but it’s what makes him a nice comedic break from time to time.
O’Shaughnessy was a cheesy New York dialect speaking gumshoe character but she played the part rather well! Pay her in black coffee and she’ll do any spy job for you. She heavily believes in karma and is pretty level-headed as a result. While she makes occasional appearances, every time she does, it’s like she commands the scene and takes all the attention… which is a good thing. She makes herself into an important character and does so through the way she’s written. As cornball and cheesy as her character may seem, she ends up as one of the most interesting supporting characters in the entire book.
One thing that was sorely missing from this series was a good antagonist. This may be a bit of deep thinking here but I believe this book didn’t really need one per se as the “antagonist” was the social awkwardness dwelling within each of the characters. Overcoming that and finding their own state of normalcy is the victory and the end goal here. The antagonist is the demons inside of ourselves.
But in case you needed a physical antagonist, there’s always Nadine from the Paranormal Club. I felt she was introduced way too late to hold any sort of significance in the antagonist role but her impact was surely felt. Even though she wasn’t explored deeply for a lengthy amount of time, the end results of her character were pretty satisfying. I don’t think she was really needed but Nadine did add that little something extra to the story.
Do You Want to Be Normal? Is a well-crafted and well thought out light novel. As I read through the book, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to other slice-of-life shows such as Watamote, or My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu. It just had that vibe about it and I could definitely see a story like this turned into a television anime. That’s a great testament to Koji’s ability to tell a great slice-of-life high school story! While some of the characters were more prominent than others, they were still crafted well enough to where each one felt like they belonged. I just wish more attention had been paid to some of the others.
As far as the book’s structure, I loved the idea of keeping the chapters at a medium and well-managed length and then dividing each chapter into “parts.” The parts made it felt like you were moving from scene to scene. I think this method helped me make my comment just now about envisioning this as a television anime. Each chapter was framed perfectly and the intermission in the middle helped add a layer of depth to the overall story. The only major complaint is that I think the author could have spent a bit more time on the editing process as there were numerous grammatical errors throughout the book; however, I don’t think they inhibited the story that was being told. Still, they are noticeable and a bit jarring when you’re trying to immerse yourself.
Outside of that, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a great slice-of-life romance story with a lot of comedy splashed it. While it doesn’t make you laugh 100% of the time, the comedic effects are used in perfect intervals to a great sense of balance between all of the normal and dramatic moments found throughout. I found this so good that it pains me that this is only a one-volume series. Again, I felt it could have been explored more to the point where it could have been two volumes but on the same note, what we did receive within the confines of a single volume were still highly satisfying and I’m content with what we have.
In other words, is a second volume necessary? No. Just a selfish personal preference of mine. That’s just a testament to how much I enjoyed this book. Hopefully, my excitement over this title will inspire you to check it out for yourself!