Redefining Normal

Young Adult - Coming of Age
231 Pages
Reviewed on 06/28/2020
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Paul Nankivell was born in Los Angeles, California in 1964. The difficult circumstances of his birth caused him to have a brain hemorrhage. Doctors deemed his prognosis so dire that they didn't think he would survive the first few weeks of life. And, if he did, he would be in a permanent vegetative state. But, he overcame those odds. Now, although he has to use a motorized wheelchair, due to cerebral palsy--which in Paul's case--causes severe balance and coordination issues, he's well above average intellectually. At age 27, he proved the doctors wrong by earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University Northridge--(C.S.U.N.)--in 1991. His debut novel, Redefining Normal, is based on his experiences as one of the first physically challenged children to mainstream into "regular schools." Today, Paul lives in Ventura County California where he's actively participated in accessibility rights for physically challenged people.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Redefining Normal by Paul Nankivell is a coming of age historical fiction novel about a baby named Alan Jones who has a stroke as an infant and, against the firm advice given by respected medical staff at the hospital, his mother makes the decision to raise him at home rather than institutionalize him. The decision turns out to be correct. Alan is quickly recognized as he transitions into childhood that, despite his physical limitations, his intellect pushes him into a percentile soaring above and beyond average. Unfortunately, as the years tick away, Alan is consistently misjudged and wholly underestimated, forced to fight against generational prejudices, and become one of only a handful of pioneers to level the playing field for disabled students. Through grit, perseverance, and a selective, caring support system, Alan is able to lead the way in diminishing discrimination and obtaining the education and respect he has earned.

Redefining Normal has more than just a small basis on author Paul Nankivell's own life. While the writing is simple and straightforward, there is an underlying thread of tension that weaves through each page, fuelled by a persistent feeling of frustration. It takes time and work for Alan to hit physical milestones, including clear speech and mobility with the assistance of a powered wheelchair, among other things. As a reader being guided with a direct point of view, the scenes that play out are often infuriating. There is one in particular that highlights the micro-aggression of a teacher named Ms. Simmons following the death of a young classmate. Her reaction to Alan making a point of one student's death being overlooked while another's isn't is met with unguarded condescension and an implication that Alan should pipe down and just be grateful he is allowed at the school at all. This is a really good book that shows how far as a society we have come, but how far away we still are as the advocacy and fight for rights continues. I can't imagine anyone not finding this book to be engrossing and eye-opening.

Peter Burdi

Once you start reading, each chapter keeps you wanting to continue to the next. Paul shares his stories in such a way that you will experience them in a very personal way. It is a very emotionally involving book. The obstacles he encounters and overcomes are inspiring. Mostly, I enjoyed just sitting down and reading this book. I hope others can experience it. Looking forward to his next one.

Rod Hagenbuch

Incredible book which really discusses the challenges disabled people have the strength and determination needed to achieve. Paul did an excellent job of both describing the challenges and made it human and very interesting. Could not put the book down until finished.

Mary Ann Lowe

Paul shines a strong light on those who appear to be different, but whose talents need to be developed for the benefit of all.


Through the literary technique of author surrogate, the reader is submerged into a first-hand account of what it's like to break the ableist mold as a student with cerebral palsy facing the public school system. It is an adventure that inspires the courageous warrior within to keep on fighting and triumph over bigotry. Lastly, without giving away too much, this book comes to a great closure that warms the soul.

Stan Crawford

An awesome true story about a young man overcoming hurdles while growing up with cerebral palsy. It is also about how the help of a parent and advocate ensures that his life's work is treated fairly and just. A great read for parents with children with disabilities and also for someone that might need inspiration when overcoming life-altering obstacles!

Sharon Skinner

Think ableism is not a part of who we are? This book will change your view. Paul Nankivell provides a clear and honest picture of growing up "disabled" in a society where everything, including education, is designed for the abled. A forthright and sincere look at both sides of the story from a writer with a knack for a compelling narrative. I look forward to Paul's next book.