By Rachel Bloom
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Rachel Bloom has felt abnormal and out of place her whole life. In this exploration of what she thinks makes her “different,” she’s come to realize that a lot of people also feel this way; even people who she otherwise thought were “normal.”
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What is normal?
Every day we hear it as something everyone should be.
But should they really?
What is the so-called standard that we mold and fit ourselves through an invisible corset to be accepted in society all our life?
Is it based on looks?
Or is it something else, something in your heart that you're born with, and cannot gain from practice or experience?
If no one is sure what it is, then why are people harshly judged by its qualifications
every single tedious day?
I rack and rack my brain to figure out what it is.
Who is normal?
Your Freddie Prinze Jr. look-alike crush?
What appears to be normal may in fact be the opposite;
a juicy ripe apple with a green worm inside.
My theory is that every apple, whether rotten or ripe on the outside, has a tiny little green worm inside that's just dying to crawl out.
And one day, it will.
—Written by Myself, Age Twelve
NORMAL PEOPLE DON'T GET BULLIED
PULL DOWN YOUR PANTS AND LET'S COMPARE TRAUMAS
Were you bullied in middle school? Yeah? You were?
You weren't bullied. I was bullied. I am the ultimate judge of bullying and I conclude that I was bullied and you were not bullied. So says me, court adjourned, gavel goes bang bang.
Most people say they were bullied in middle school. But what they're describing isn't bullying; it's just feeling out of place. And hey, that's fair; middle school is awkward, even for, per the title of this book, "the normal people." For "the normal people," I gather that middle school was annoying but that the personal conflict never got darker than a story in the Disney's One Saturday Morning animated series Pepper Ann. (There's only so much darkness to be mined in the life of a protagonist described by the theme song as "Much too cool for seventh grade.")
Over time, I became resentful of these normies / happies / reggies / those too cool for seventh grade who conflated run-of-the-mill middle school awkwardness with "bullying." So in adulthood, I started to call them out on their shit. "Oh, I'm sorry, were you excluded from Sarah's birthday party that one time? Fuck you. I routinely found notes that said 'Ugly' and 'Looser' in my locker. And no, typos don't make the insults hurt less. I warsh they did!"
By my mid-twenties, every middle school story that didn't send someone into therapy later in life became open season for my ridicule. "Aw, you got your period right before you went onstage for the talent show and it was awkward? Well I was so routinely harassed at every talent show that by the time I got to seventh grade, I was grateful the only booing I got was one person shouting, 'Rachel sucks!'"
(Side note: Here's that actual diary entry from 3/26/2000):
You may have noted that, in my need to "out-trauma-story" people, I turned into a bully myself. To that I say: Oooooooooh look who's so smaaaaaaaart it's youuuuuuu you're so smaaaaaaaart why don't you have a smaaaaaaaaart party (but please invite me because being left out of parties triggers my insecurity).
As a mature adult, I've come to learn that trauma is real for everyone and just because someone had it worse doesn't mean you didn't have it bad.1 And I'm the first to admit that my middle school horror stories paaaaaaale in comparison with those of many other people. I was never physically attacked, the bullying never resulted in self-harm, and it had nothing to do with my race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status. I was a "looser," yes, but a white, straight, upper-middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied one. Of course, this caveat regarding privilege applies to many other conflicts in my life so feel free to apply this footnote to any of the conflicts throughout the book as you see fit!
However, when I occasionally dip my toe back in the game of middle school trauma one-upmanship, I do have this story: When I was in seventh grade, the popular kids paid the most popular guy in school to ask me out as a prank.
Haha, trauma checkmate, motherfucker!
The story: In 1999, I was a seventh grader in Manhattan Beach, California, at the creatively named Manhattan Beach Middle School. And I went to school with some real dumbfucks. Dumbfucks with no sense of culture, introspection, or the difference between plural and possessive. I know middle school is famous for being filled with dumbfucks, but there really is a special brand of dumbfuckery unique to the Southern California beach suburbs. We're talking people named "Tiffany" or "Gaskin." Most of their conversations involved wakeboarding and burritos. People who think "melanoma" means a really awesome tan, people who asked me, "So did you guys write that whole thing?" after the drama department put on Into the Woods. No, Gaskin. We didn't.
When I was in middle school circa 1999, a lot of movies came out that explored the popular vs. unpopular caste system: She's All That, Never Been Kissed, et cetera. Most people walked away from these films understanding that the moral was that the bullies were bad. But my bullies were so fucking stupid they thought the heroes of those movies were the BULLIES. The second a new teen flick came out, my bullies would literally adopt the clothing and verbal styles used by the bullies in the films. I guess they loved the characters' cool fashion, their awesome cars, and the biting insults said by the twenty-eight-year-old actors pretending to be sixteen.
One of my dumbfuck bullies even wrote a review for the school paper about my favorite movie, Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse. She called it one of the "funniest comedies" she'd ever seen "because the girl in it is so ugly."2
And now we come to me, a real-life Todd Solondz hilarious uggo. I was a pale kid with transition-lensed glasses and a rolling backpack, with lopsided bangs that I, for some reason, cut myself. I was so naturally scrawny that there was a rumor going around that I was anorexic but also a rumor that I wasn't cool enough to be anorexic. I sang show tunes under my breath and used words like "parlance." My favorite outfit: sweatpants, Payless zipper shoes, and an oversize T-shirt that featured Betty Boop dressed as all of the Spice Girls, the caption of which said, appropriately, BOOP WORLD. Basically, my style sensibility was "the best prizes at a Chuck E. Cheese."
I dug myself in my loser hole deeper in every way possible. Being an oversharer, I told a few people of the medical peril of having a mole on my face removed because it might be cancerous, which earned me the nickname "Chemo." I won a grandparent/grandchild look-alike contest at the local mall that was broadcast on the local CBS News. When others were reading The Baby-Sitters Club, I was immersed in William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.
Activity time: In eighth-grade English class, bring up the scene in which Regan fucks herself with a crucifix until she bleeds! Then draw the look on your teacher's face in the box below!
If only I could say that my personality in hindsight was awesome and no one "got me," but this is disproved by the seventy-two DVDs' worth of home movies that my mother gifted me on my thirtieth birthday. Thanks to these DVDs, I have concrete proof my personality was pretty insufferable. When I watch those, I cringe at every word that comes out of my mouth. I am so insecure in my own skin that my speech pattern is a collection of half-baked impressions of the adults that I respect: my mother, my father, Ethel Merman, and Joan Cusack in Addams Family Values.
I also wish I could say that I didn't care that I was made fun of; that I let my freak flag fly and was proud of being a weirdo. But I hated who I was. I hated my hair, my voice, my clothes. It was agonizing because I DESPERATELY wanted to be popular. I wanted to hang with Gaskin and learn to surf and have parents who were retired jocks who worked in real estate. By day, I vocally detested the melanoma'd beautifuls, but by night, I imagined myself as one of them. I never did the math on how I could actually make the transition to being popular because I'm bad at math. It was much easier to imagine snapping my fingers and just being a new person. Sometimes I'd use the two-column format in Microsoft Word to write fake high school newspaper articles about my future self in which I was the homecoming queen, a cheerleader, and dating my longtime crush. (The floppy disk that held this pioneering work in the genre "self-fanfiction" has been sadly lost to time.)
A teensy-tiny fact to add to the mix: This whole time, I was wrestling with a darkness in my mind that I later realized was obsessive-compulsive disorder. I'll go into this later (it's a fun beach read!), but for now let's just say that it was a shadow over my life that colored everything I did. Get excited!
Anyway, I made it my secret mission to impress the popular kids. But of course I was still…me, so my grandest efforts made everything worse. "I'm gonna enter the school lip sync contest and do 'Adelaide's Lament' from Guys and Dolls! THAT'LL make them respect me!" I genuinely thought my talent and dedication to my craft would impress them. As I tried harder and harder to make a mark in the only ways I knew how, my desperation made me even more delicious bully meat. With every effort, I could feel myself sweating gallons of bully pheromones that even bullies from neighboring schools could smell from miles away, like I was a house cat in heat and they were the brawny neighborhood strays tearing open my screen door to impregnate me.
Had I not been so desperate to prove myself, I probably could have lived peacefully under the radar. My friend Gillian, for instance, wasn't bullied nearly as much as I was yet was arguably just as weird. She regularly wore tie-dye ponchos and reindeer headbands at Christmastime, plus her parents owned three harpsichords. But she got made fun of a lot less because she didn't react to the bullies. She was happy with who she was and genuinely didn't give a shit about what they thought of her. It was badass.
By the time of the BIG PRANK, I had actually started to learn from Gillian and given up on my popularity quest. My last attempt at coolness had been a bust: I spent $80 of allowance money on "Roxy" brand shirts, but it didn't make a dent. Maybe Gillian was right; us losers just needed to live in quiet peace with our weirdness.
Shortly after coming to this conclusion, Gillian and I formed a group of fellow loser friends with whom we'd eat lunch on a sad tuft of grass every day. There's always that one shitty spot in every school that feels as if the architect said, "Hmm, I need to design someplace secluded and moist for the uncool kids." So, I'm eating a turkey sandwich on my loser tuft and along comes this girl Nicola. Background on Nicola: She was an upper-tier loser who used to eat lunch with us sometimes but was now working her way up to mid-level wannabe. Mid-level wannabe was about two tiers below true popularity, so she could sit at the popular table but only if she got stabbed and needed a place to wait for the ambulance.
Nicola came up to me and stated, "Rachel. The popular kids wanna talk to you." Oh no. This can't be good. Embracing my new mantra of "stay away from the popular people and blend into the background," I refused to go over there.
But the next day, it was the same thing. Nicola came over, her double A's pushed up to her chin, and said, "Rachel, the popular kids really wanna talk to you." And I again refused. The same thing happened the day after that. It was like some sort of old rabbinic parable about a man and his goats and the moral of the story ends up being "Be grateful for the soup you have."
After I'd ignored Nicola for a full week, two of the popular girls actually followed me as I walked home. They said, "We have something REALLY important to tell you, come with us!" When I refused, they started pulling on my hoodie. Thinking fast, I said, "I can't, I have to go to the hospital, my uncle has cancer!" (Years later, my uncle ended up actually dying of cancer, so I blame you, Brittany and Lauren.)3
I was getting tired of the whole thing, though, so when Nicola came up to me the next week at lunch and said, "Rachel. The popular kids wanna talk to you," I finally asked, "Why? Why, Nicola?" Nicola said, "Because Devon McElroy wants to ask you out."
Now, obviously, his name was not really Devon McElroy. I've changed his name to protect his privacy. His real name was Ryan Hamilton.
I knew this had to be a joke. I had barely spoken to Devon McElroy. He wasn't even one of my main bullies. He sat on the bully bench and would only sub in when another bully got injured. I truly had no read on Devon/Ryan's personality and, outside of his social status, I was in no way attracted to him. But still, I was intrigued. I mean, I KNEW the whole thing had to be a joke. There is no way that a popular guy wanted to ask me out. At the same time, there was a part of me deep down that thought…maybe my efforts to be cool finally worked. Maybe Devon noticed my Roxy shirts and appreciated my ability to sell the story of a song. Plus, I was growing boobs. I didn't wear a bra yet (which got me teased in the locker room), so maybe Devon had clocked my new nipples curiously poking out from under my shirt like the noses of two precocious mice. Deciding that if Devon really loved me I could learn to love him back, I decided to see what he had to say.
By the time I walked over to where the popular kids sat, word had spread around the entire school that Devon McElroy was going to ask out Rachel Bloom. So as I stood in front of the populars' picnic table, I was also surrounded by about sixty other kids. It felt scary. For the first time in my life, I didn't want all this attention. (That would also be the last time, of course. Winking emoji winking emoji winking emoji.)
"What do you guys want?" I said to them.
"Hey Rachel," croaked Devon McElroy. "I really like you and…I was wondering if you'd be my girlfriend."
Seventy-two pubescent eyes (give or take) swiveled toward me. Lost for words, all I could say in that moment was, "Uh…okay?"
HUBBUB HUBBUB HUBBUB HUBBUB.
Devon took out a ziplock bag full of Cheetos and said, "Please accept these Cheetos as a token of my affection."
I accepted those Cheetos, everyone cheered, and then, I was launched into a waking dream. For the rest of the day, I was…popular. It was just as my self-fanfiction had predicted. I was getting high-fived in the halls, asked to parties, notes were slipped into my locker that said, "U Rool" and for once I didn't mind the spelling error. Two of the popular kids asked me in social studies class how long I thought Devon and I would be together. "Uh…until…college?" They squeed. Or whatever the late-nineties term for squeeing was. They…made a sound like a genie in the bottle being rubbed the right way.
I knew something was wrong when Nicola came up to me after school. Ever since becoming my boyfriend earlier that day, Devon had been notably absent. "Rachel, the popular kids wanna talk to you again." Her voice was solemn. This time, I didn't hesitate to follow Nicola. As I marched with my executioner toward the gallows, I knew that my day in paradise was about to get monsooned on.
Devon was standing in the quad surrounded by various Gaskins. "Hey Devon, what's up?"
"Oh," he said as the Gaskins smirked, "I just remembered that I'm not allowed to have a girlfriend until I'm fifteen. So, uh, yeah, we have to break up."
I could have just run away at that point. But for the first time in my life, I cared about my dignity. So I said, "Oh, that's okay, but I hope we can still be friends." I gave him a hug. And when I left that hug and turned around, they all started laughing. And that's when I knew what I'd known deep down from the beginning. It was a joke. Of course it was.
I walked home in a daze. I'd always been bullied, but this took it to a whole other level of public humiliation. This was a concerted plan to shame me. It took effort, time, and critical thinking skills on the part of my bullies. There was no coming back from this. I felt the dazed numbness of someone newly pariah-ed. The thing I dreaded more than going to school the next day was what my mother might say if she found out about the prank. Shocker time: My parents weren't popular kids, either.4 As a result, my mother was particularly sensitive to me being bullied, her own childhood trauma rising to the surface every time I came home crying from school. I was in enough pain; I didn't want my mother to be as well.
I walked in the door just as my former friend Jackie was leaving a message on our machine. (I'd been close with Jackie in kindergarten but she'd left me around second grade to become an upper-level wannabe.) "Hey Rachel, it's me Jackie, I just wanna say that I heard what the popular kids did. It was a whole thing where they each paid Devon twenty bucks and I think it's so mean and—" Before my mother could come out of the bathroom I picked up the phone. I told Jackie it was fine, all good, I was as cool as a cucumber, as calm as Austin Powers in his swinging sixties shag pad, baby! I hastily hung up on Jackie and deleted the recorded part of the message before my mother could hear anything.
Since I didn't tell my parents what happened, I had no excuse not to go to school the next day. I couldn't complain that I felt "vaguely sick"—I was only allowed to miss school under the most dire of circumstances. So I threw on a Roxy shirt and prayed for anonymity. Maybe everyone forgot the whole thing already?
Of course, people didn't forget. But it wasn't in the way I dreaded.
See, what the popular kids had done was too mean. Their scheme was literally a plot out of a shitty teen movie, and even seventh graders could see it was fucked up. I wasn't getting laughed at in the hallway—I was getting apologies. People were coming up to me and saying they were on my side, that they'd never liked those kids anyway, that my "Adelaide's Lament" lip sync was actually pretty sick. At one point, the two girls who grabbed my hoodie / killed my uncle came up to me in tears and begged me not to tell the principal what happened because Devon was their friend and they didn't want him to get suspended. By the end of the day, the whole prank was more of a stain on them than on me. And by the time we got to high school, their stars had faded and they blended into the background where they could never hurt anyone ever again.
Hmm. I realize that this story kind of ends happily. That's a bit too early to happen in this book. Note to self: Come back to this section later to give it a sadder ending.
1 See, Dr. Yakamura? I DO listen in our sessions. Now get off my ass.
2 Reviewing Todd Solondz's Happiness, this same writer called it a "heartwarming will-they-or-won't-they romantic comedy about a grown man going after his crush!"
3 A family member in the hospital became my go-to gut reaction whenever I felt in danger. When I lived in New York, I was walking home at 3:00 a.m. one time and I felt like a guy was following me. Without missing a beat, I whipped out my cell phone and went, "What, Mom? Dad's in the hospital! I'll be right there!" and started running. So first of all, even in mortal danger, I felt like I needed an excuse to run away from a man for fear of offending him. But second of all, I assumed he'd take pity on me in that moment. "Well, I can't rape her now, the poor girl's dad's in the hospital. I hope he's okay."
4 Let's just say the perfect haunted house for the Bloom family would be a single room with a PE teacher in it.
SOME UNORTHODOX WAYS TO DEAL WITH BULLIES
Let's face it: If you're a person of substance, you are going to get bullied in school. But instead of telling yourself that the bullies are "just jealous" (they're not) or trying to learn revenge telekinesis in time for the big dance (you won't, I've tried, it's hard), here are some more out-of-the-box ways to deal with bullying:
LEGAL NOTICE: None of these methods have been tested in any way and I do not hold Rachel Bloom legally responsible for any repercussions in attempting any of these methods. I promise to sign and date on the below line before reading any further.
And while we're signing stuff, might as well practice your autograph for when you get famous:
Ugh, that last autograph sucked. Do it over:
Method #1: Get rid of the bully's need to bully.
1. Learn to forge your bully's signature. Then, when the school year starts, sign your bully up for as many after-school activities as you can. This also may require setting up a fake email address if the sign-ups are online only—be sure to give your bully something authentic like "caligurl456," not something that shows your hand like firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. After you sign your bully up for the school activities, create another fake email address for the teacher at your school in charge of the after-school activities. From this fake email address, email the bully's parents the following:
Hello (INSERT BULLY'S MOM'S NAME HERE)! Your child has signed up for the following extracurricular activities:
(INSERT ABSURDLY LONG LIST OF APPLICABLE AFTER-SCHOOL ACTIVITIES HERE)
Please note: As your child took up a valuable spot in each activity by signing up before the other students, each missed day of each activity will incur a fee of (INSERT FEE AMOUNT HERE. IF YOU GO TO A PUBLIC SCHOOL, $5; IF YOU GO TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL, $20; IF YOU GO TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL IN LA OR NY, $1,000.) Thank you!
- "It's nice to know someone as talented as Rachel is also pretty weird. If you're like me and love Rachel Bloom, this hilarious, personal book will make you love her even more." —Mindy Kaling
- "Rachel is one of the funniest bravest people of our generation and this book blew me away."—Amy Schumer
- "There's something I love a lot that people don't acknowledge as a thing and it's heartbreaking comedy. This book is that. Read it. You will laugh while you're crying and cry while you're laughing. Treat yourself to the heartbreaking comedy that is the life of Rachel Bloom."—Sarah Silverman
- "Whipsmart candor and disarming energy...Fans of her show and former and current nerds of all stripes will see themselves in Bloom's story. The end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has not dulled its fans' enthusiasm, and, really, anyone who made it out of adolescence alive will appreciate Bloom's insights."—Booklist
- “If you binged [Crazy Ex Girlfriend], we guarantee you’ll binge this book.”—CNN
- "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend co-creator Rachel Bloom's first collection of essays, I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, is both hilarious and endlessly relatable. Whether she's writing about her lifelong desire to be "normal" or revealing her Disney obsession, reading Bloom's essays is like chatting with your wittiest friend."—PopSugar
- "The stories have everything: Harry Potter fanfiction, deep thoughts about pooping, blow-by-blow accounts of fights with S&P during Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I cracked up throughout, but what made it stick with me was her articulation of her anxieties. It was easy to see where and how in her life the beginnings of her work formed, and why certain experiences loomed large. All that, plus lyrics to songs she wrote about her former roommates! I'm telling you: It's good weird."—Mashable
- "If you loved Tina Fey and Amy Pohler's memoirs, don't sleep on this one from the creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Bloom's signature wit and honest voice shine through every word of this quirky, laugh-out-loud book that I read in one gut-busting sitting."—Good Housekeeping
- "Painfully funny (and funnily painful)."—B.J. Novak
- "Rachel Bloom looks at our 'normal' world through the point of view of a confused, hopeful alien with a huge heart and a raging, quirky creativity. I will never look at amusement park maps the same way."—Patton Oswalt
- "Rachel Bloom is just that a person who has whole-y bloomed into a fiercely funny talent performer and now writer. Was that a corny sentence? Yes. Is this book corny? No. It's wild to read or think about people wanting so desperately to be normal. I'm so thankful Rachel never got to where the normal people are because we wouldn't be enriched with the art she has shared with the world. The book is f*cking funny and a breezy read and you're goofy as f*ck if you don't buy it."—Nicole Byer, author of #VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE
- "My podcast made Rachel Bloom cum and it'll make you cum too."—Dan Savage
- "(Rachel has) a legendarily active imagination with a predisposition for anxiety. Uh, sure you can put this quote on the back of your book I guess?"—Rachel's Psychiatrist
- On Sale
- Nov 17, 2020
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing