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Book Review: The funny thing about Norman Foreman by Julietta Henderson

What do you do when you’re 11 and your best friend – the Rolls bloody Royce of best friends – dies suddenly?

This is what Norman Foreman’s facing when we meet at the beginning of this book.

It’s quite brave to start a book at an 11-year old’s funeral – I mean I’m from the generation that was left heart broken and traumatised by My Girl – but Julietta Henderson goes there immediately.

You’d think that a book that opens at funeral is about to lead you on a sob fest for a couple of hundred pages, but it doesn’t, it really doesn’t.

Norman is from a single parent family. It’s just him and his mum, Sadie. 

Norman is quite a lonely child, he’s plagued by psoriasis, he doesn’t have many friends until he meets Jax when they’re both aged 6.

Jax is wild. He’s a loud, sweary, naughty child and also “the most fun you can ever have with someone”. Jax takes Norman under his wing; Norman and Sadie take Jax into their hearts.

The boys are obsessed with comedy, they have dreams of becoming a great comedy duo. Their five-year plan is all about getting to and performing at the Edinburgh fringe and then Jax dies.

In a fog of grief, Norman rewrites his plan, as a tribute to Jax, Norman plans to perform at the fringe on his own even though he knows he’s not the ‘funny’ one.

Sadie promises to make that happen what she hadn’t banked on is that Norman wants to find his dad too, she’s not entirely sure who it is (there are four potentials) and she’s never given it much thought.

“But anyhow, who provided the champion Y chromosome that coasted up a lager-and-lemonade river to victory in my ovaries never really came up in Norman’s first twelve years of life.” ― Julietta Henderson.

Despite that, Sadie is determined to put a smile back on her son’s face, even if it does mean confronting and dealing with her own messy past.

With the help of Leonard, an octogenarian who works at the same garage as Sadie, the three set off on a road trip to find Norman’s dad and get him to the Fringe.

Oh, this book had my heart.

It is an absolutely delightful read about love, friendship and never giving up on your dreams, no matter how scary and how unlikely they are.

The characters are wonderful, Norman is the star of the show.

I wanted to hug him. He feels the need to look after his mum, he doesn’t want them to be alone anymore and it is clear that Jax has left a huge hole in their lives.

How Norman deals with Jax’s death is realistic. He’s determined to honour him in the right way, he’s constantly sharing Jax’s tips on how to be funny and his memories of Jax. 

Henderson effectively describes what it’s like for young boy to grieve for his best friend, he has moments where he feels guilty for laughing, he doesn’t want to forget Jax and is desperate for him to come back.

“I thought about trying to do a deal with God. Just in case. Because I thought maybe he’d consider swapping one of my eyes, or a couple of arms, or a leg or two for bringing Jax back. Or both eyes and an ear even. I got the deal right down to me being a blind, deaf, no talking torso sitting on the beach, and I still decided that would be OK if only I could have Jaxy back sitting next to me” Julietta Henderson

And of course Sadie is grieving for Jax too, at the same time she wants to put a smile back on Norman’s face – a real full smile that reaches his eyes.

Sadie doesn’t think she’d win Mother of the Year, I’d disagree, she’s definitely a contender. 

She loves that boy; despite the fact she’s given him a very unfortunate name. She’d do anything for him as is evident with their road trip across the country with four cringe inducing stops along the way.

Sadie’s carrying a lot of guilt, she wants to protect Norman at all costs and worries about what will happen to him if he gets on stage. She’s got to learn to let go to of the past and of Norman, she’s got to let him make his own path, something she knows deep down just as she knows there’s no way he’ll back out of performing at the fringe.

They’re unlikely friendship with Leonard and his determination to help them both is an added bonus. He has own story, that I won’t give away, I thought I knew what he was hiding but I was wrong. It turns out Sadie and Norman help him as much as he helps them, even if they don’t know it. 

Everything about the funny thing about Norman Foreman is just lovely.

It’s really well written, the characters are believable, and I loved seeing how their journey to Edinburgh unfolded and how Sadie coped with making the most awkward phone calls to four unsuspecting men.

Yes, there are sad parts but its bursting with warmth and humour. It’s a real coming of age story as Norman confronts life’s bloody awful trials.

Ultimately, it’s probably the most uplifting book of 2022.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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