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Norma by Sofi Oksanen

Last semester, I took a college class that was in part working with the University of Colorado Denver's literary journal called the Copper Nickel while also teaching about the publishing industry as a whole. We were assigned the task of finding a "best cover for 2018" and Norma was my pick. I was fascinated by the beautiful cover and then intrigued by the story, enough to special order the book from out of the country to read.

In present day Helsinki, Norma works hard to be a completely ordinary young woman, while her supernatural hair works against her. She struggles on a day to day basis to maintain control -- her hair is sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood and those of people around her, corkscrewing when danger is near, and growing at nearly a meter a day -- let alone when her mother "commits suicide". When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, Norma is not only left alone to grieve and to hide her secret, but she is also left trying to solve the mystery of her mother's death. Setting out to reconstruct her mother's final months, Norma realizes that her mother knew more about the sinister truth behind Norma's magical hair and it's abilities.

I find Norma fascinating. She has so much drama to deal with on so many different levels, let alone the fact that her hair reacts to it all as a separate entity. She is being attacked from all sides -- both in passive and actively aggressive fashions -- and yet she endures. She is written as an introverted, quiet character trying to stifle this incredibly active head of hair, but she is far from weak. It's a unique blend of personality traits that in trying times really make for an incredible protagonist.

It takes a little bit to get into the swing of this book. Had I not already had an idea about what was happening -- particularly with Norma's unique hair -- I would have had a difficult time keeping track of the plot. There are definite differences in style and prose since it's foreign which made for a refreshing fun read, and considering the fact that this is translated from the original Finnish and the magical realism style of writing, it is well worth the commitment. In many ways, it reminds me of the magical realism in Gabriel Garcias Marquez's works, as well as the European fiction/ mystery prose seen in writer's like Jo Nesbo.

"As Sofi Oksanen leads us ever more deeply into Norma's world, weaving together past and present, she gives us a dark family drama that is a searing portrait of both the exploitation of women's bodies and the extremes to which people will go for the sake of beauty." Norma by Oksanen is beautiful inside and out.

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