I must admit I had never heard of comedian Francesca Martinez before I picked up this book. But I now know she is a successful stand-up comedian who also happens to have cerebral palsy or is ‘wobbly’ as she herself would describe it. This book is partly an autobiography but also a powerful personal statement of belief – in a world where we are not defined by what we wear, what we look like and what we can’t do.
As you’d expect the book is often very funny but just as often touching and even sad. We follow Francesca from ‘floppy’ baby, to tomboyish toddler who has no idea she is any different to the other children and on to high school, which she finds hell. I found myself cringing at the cruelties Francesca suffers, from thoughtless classmates, but worse from her teachers and the ‘helpers’ she is assigned. I found myself cheering her on when she lands a part in a popular children’s TV programme, leaving her tormentors gaping open mouthed.
We meet Francesca’s ever supportive family, her adored Spanish grandparents and the friends who help and hinder her on the path to self-acceptance and happiness. The last part of the book is Francesca’s personal manifesto for society – a call for us to care less about things and more about people, less about what we look like and more about what we act like. I found it affirming and inspiring. I think anyone would enjoy this vibrant account of being disabled in an able bodied world and book groups could use it as part of a reflection on the portrayal of disability in literature.
What the **** is normal? by Francesca Martinez
978-0-75355-535-4|Virgin Books pbk May 2014
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