Some people argue that Sally Rooney’s books deserve all the praise they’ve gotten, while others consider her to be overrated. Regardless of where you stand on the topic, one thing’s for sure – people cannot stop talking about Sally Rooney. Because of this, our Normal People book club questions are the perfect addition to your next book club.
Normal People discusses the themes of love, identity, and the complexities of growing up. Our Normal People book club questions and discussion guide is a great way for your group to tackle the many different layers of Sally Rooney. After the 10 discussion questions, you’ll find 4 selected reviews of Normal People to further stimulate your book club discussion.
If you find yourself a fan of Sally Rooney, at the end of this guide you’ll find three related books to pick up on your next trip to the bookstore.
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Normal People Synopsis
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.
10 Normal People Book Club Questions
- “Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.” Considering Marianne’s claim, do you agree with her? Why or why not?
- The first half of Normal People is centered around the main conflict of Connell being so concerned with his peer’s opinions that he refuses to publicly acknowledge Marianne. Do you blame Connell for his actions? Do you sympathize with him or with Marianne?
- Connel said, “Marianne lived a drastically free life, he could see that. He was trapped by various considerations. He cared what people thought of him.” While there are similarities, both Connell and Marianne are different and complex people. Which one do you relate to more? Why?
- Author Rooney uses Connell and Marianne to display power in a few different ways throughout Normal People. Where do you see different kinds of power (societal, financial, etc) portrayed in Connell and Marianne’s relationship? At what points does the power shift?
- Consider the title Normal People. Why might Author Rooney have chosen this title? What makes someone “normal”?
- Both Connell and Marianne suffer from mental health problems throughout the book. Building off the previous question, how might Author Rooney’s portrayal of mental illness in Normal People help to destigmatize it? Do “normal people” sometimes suffer from a mental health crisis like both Connell and Marianne do?
- Early on, Connell says to Marianne, “I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do.” Do you believe Connell? Do you think he loved Marianne throughout the entire book?
- If you were to operate under the assumption that Connell did love Marianne, is that love any less real since they were never in an official relationship? Reflect on the dating environment in our society, does love need a label?
- Connell and Marianne are rarely open and honest with each other throughout the book, leading to many moments of miscommunication. Connell says, “I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions.” How might the trajectory of the story changed if Connell and Marianne communicated effectively with each other? Were the moments of miscommunication and subsequent events necessary for their development as people?
- Normal People ends when Connell gets accepted to a university in New York and Marianne tells him to go. The reader is never told what happens to Connell and Marianne and the ending is left ambiguous. Do you think Connell and Marianne end up together?
Selected Reviews for Normal People
“ I had been influenced by a friend – whom I adore & respect – by her 1 star review… way before this book started gaining momentum and hit the stores a month ago. This book wasn’t for my friend – but it sure was for me… Sooo many fabulous sentences – page after page. Gorgeous reflective and intimate writing. Sally Rooney is an “it” author for me.”
“This is going to be a polarizing book. I mean, I think I liked it. And I say “liked it” in the sense that it made me very miserable. It is a quiet character study, almost like a YA novel but not quite, and it is a profoundly lonely and depressing love story… I feel like there are any number of reasons I could have hated Normal People, but I didn’t. I actually kinda loved it. It’s a weird, awkward, depressing novel about a connection formed between two very different people who find exactly what they need – and perhaps a lot that they don’t – in each other.”
“This novel is very popular and much beloved. While I recognize that Rooney has talent, I did not vibe with [Normal People]… While I enjoyed Rooney’s style, the way in which she interweaves ordinary moments with emotionally charged ones and the uncertainty that pervades her story, I was also annoyed by how artificial her novel is…. What I disliked the most is that by the end neither Marianne or Connel show any sort of character growth.”
“This book wasn’t that bad, it just wasn’t for me. This is a “slice of life” story with no real plot – we just follow these two young people: Connell and Marianne over a period of a couple years as they struggle with their complicated on-again off-again relationship. The writing itself in this book is actually really gorgeous and lyrical and beautiful… but it also does the obnoxious no quotations around the dialogue thing that I absolutely hate…Overall, this book was alright but it definitely wasn’t my kind of book and I think this is a little overhyped at the moment unfortunately.”
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3 Books like Normal People
If you are keen for more books set in Ireland, check out this list of great Irish Reads. We’ve also got a discussion guide for Northern Spy (set in Belfast toward the end of the Troubles) and The Guest List (which is a mystery set on a windswept Irish isle).
If you want more books with Normal People’s themes, check out the following:
Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney
Conversations with Friends is Sally Rooney’s debut novel and follows the relationship of married couple Nick and Melissa, and their relationship with two young women Frances and Bobbi. In true Rooney fashion, Conversations with Friends has similar themes of love and relationships and the complexities that come from them. In this novel you’ll find the same beautiful writing as Normal People while falling in love with a new group of characters.
The Flatshare, by Beth O’Leary
In The Flatshare, Tiffy and Leon share a flat and a bed without ever meeting. The pair communicate through letters on the fridge until Tiffy oversleeps one morning and they meet for the first time. The Flatshare challenges typical expectations of a love story while exploring complex human relationships in a similar fashion to Normal People.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh
My Year of Rest and Relaxation tells the story of an unnamed narrator who decides to increase her prescription medication and sleep for an entire year in an attempt to heal herself. Over the course of the book, our narrator’s hibernation is not only continuously interrupted, but she also begins to sleepwalk through her life while under the influence of sleeping medications.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a dark humor-filled take on perception and reality while also dealing with topics of mental health and loss similar to themes found in Normal People.
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Authored by Heather Cuellar.
The book that made her fall in love with reading was Harry Potter in the 4th grade, and she’s been obsessed with books ever since. She’s a recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English. Studying English opened her eyes to how beautiful classic literature is, and she’s currently on a quest to read as many classics as she can get her hands on.