North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both

North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both

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by Cea Sunrise Person
     
 

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Sex, drugs, and . . . bug stew? In the vein of The Glass Castle and Wild, Cea Sunrise Person’s compelling memoir of a childhood spent with her dysfunctional counter-culture family in the Canadian wilderness—a searing story of physical, emotional, and psychological survival.

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture

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Overview

Sex, drugs, and . . . bug stew? In the vein of The Glass Castle and Wild, Cea Sunrise Person’s compelling memoir of a childhood spent with her dysfunctional counter-culture family in the Canadian wilderness—a searing story of physical, emotional, and psychological survival.

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable existence in California to live off the land in the Canadian wilderness. But unlike most commune dwellers of the time, the Persons weren’t trying to build a new society—they wanted to escape civilization altogether. Led by Cea’s grandfather Dick, they lived a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional life under a canvas tipi without running water, electricity, or heat for the bitter winters.

Living out her grandparents’ dream with her teenage mother Michelle, young Cea knew little of the world beyond her forest. She spent her summers playing nude in the meadow and her winters snowshoeing behind the grandfather she idolized. Despite fierce storms, food shortages, and the occasional drug-and-sex-infused party for visitors, it seemed to be a mostly happy existence. For Michelle, however, now long separated from Cea’s father, there was one crucial element missing: a man. When Cea was five, Michelle took her on the road with a new boyfriend. As the trio set upon a series of ill-fated adventures, Cea began to question both her highly unusual world and the hedonistic woman at the centre of it—questions that eventually evolved into an all-consuming search for a more normal life. Finally, in her early teens, Cea realized she would have to make a choice as drastic as the one her grandparents once had in order to save herself.

While a successful international modeling career offered her a way out of the wilderness, Cea discovered that this new world was in its own way daunting and full of challenges. Containing twenty-four intimate black-and-white family photos, North of Normal is Cea’s funny, shocking, heartbreaking, and triumphant tale of self-discovery and acceptance, adversity, and strength that will leave no reader unmoved.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/05/2014
In this affecting memoir, Person describes growing up in the early 1970s amid the “tipi camp” where her extended family was squatting on Indian lands in Alberta, Canada. With a free-spirited teenage mother—the daughter of a Korean War vet and forest ranger who yearned to live in nature unencumbered by the U.S. government—Person was doted upon by her pot-smoking grandparents and uninhibited if emotionally erratic aunts and uncles (one uncle, Dane, moved in and out of a mental asylum), although it was challenging living in tipis with no running water, eating whatever her grandfather, Papa Dick, happened to hunt, and using the communal “shit pit,” all in a harsh northern climate. As long as she had her mother close, Person was happy, except that her mother had to find men to support them, and therein began a peripatetic cycle of moving in with one marijuana-growing, thieving boyfriend after another, or back to the tipis with her grandparents. From time to time Person did visit her father, a middle-class professional established in a new marriage in San Francisco, yet it was a modeling competition at age 13 that allowed her finally to feel somewhat “normal” and find her own identity. Agent, Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists. (July)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-07
A former international model charts her unconventional childhood in the 1960s with a hippie-ish family.Person begins with the lives of her progressively thinking maternal grandparents, a Korean War veteran and a baker's daughter who used marijuana to soothe debilitating bouts of depression. That remedy found its way to the author's mother once the family moved to California. Then, after a failed marriage, the family relocated to a "tumbledown house in a town just over the Canadian border," where the author was born. Another move to the northern Alberta wilderness in the early 1970s further estranged the group from contemporary civilization; Person and her family gathered berries, laundered clothing in a river and slept in a ramshackle tepee. The author grew up with an appreciation for nature and for her grandfather "Papa Dick," who expanded their camps to include visiting "free-love-and marijuana-saturated" transients interested in living the same unfettered lifestyle. Further moves to southern British Columbia and beyond with her mother's new beau, Karl, eventually became stifling for Person as she came of age and preferred reuniting with her birth father to living with her pothead grandparents. While the author predominantly chronicles her eccentric childhood, in the final chapters, she details her independent ascent into the modeling world, where she bravely traversed the competitive fashion markets in Manhattan and Europe at age 15, alone, with barely an acknowledgment from her oblivious mother. Person also soberingly examines the myriad mistakes and struggles in her own adult life ("I cheated on my first husband with seven different men….I had done so much coke and drank so much booze that I had beat the crap out of my boyfriend"), mirroring her dysfunctional upbringing. Personal closure occurred with forgiveness and a rebonding with her mother years before her death.Written with stylistic clarity and studded with family photos, Person's lucid memories present a stirring scrapbook.
Toronto Star
North of Normal contains so many jaw-dropping scenes it makes Jeannette Walls’ childhood (The Glass Castle) look almost conventional.... [it] illuminate[s] family relationships that juxtapose love with torment, and illustrate the power of forgiveness.”
Boston Globe
“Accounts of early childhood are tricky—too many details and it’s impossible to trust the writer’s memory—but Person navigates the challenge with real grace. Her clear-eyed memoir captures her family’s quest and its collapse without bitterness. ”
Cosmopolitan
“Think your family is weird? Cea Sunrise Person slept in a tepee in the Canadian Rockies for most of her childhood, then by age 15 was modeling in Paris. Her memoir, North of Normal, retraces her unique path.”
Elle
“Her account of this Alice-in-Wonderland life is rendered with…grace, and without self-pity.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062289865
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/24/2014
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
885,533
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

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