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

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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 movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable e 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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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 e 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Full disclosure: I knew Cea during her time in the Yukon. I have my own childhood memories of her mother, her grandparents, their bush camp, and of course Cea herself. THIS BOOK NAILS IT. There was a lot that I did not know about her story and learned only from reading the book; there was also a lot that resonated deeply with my own understanding and experience of childhood in and around the counterculture. As moving as this story was on a personal level, it is also an important story that needs Full disclosure: I knew Cea during her time in the Yukon. I have my own childhood memories of her mother, her grandparents, their bush camp, and of course Cea herself. THIS BOOK NAILS IT. There was a lot that I did not know about her story and learned only from reading the book; there was also a lot that resonated deeply with my own understanding and experience of childhood in and around the counterculture. As moving as this story was on a personal level, it is also an important story that needs to be told about that time and place.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A memoir of a child raised by a drug addled and sexually promiscuous mother, grandparents and aunts, North of Normal is east, west and south of normal too. Okay, there's no such thing as a normal upbringing, but there is decency and there is not much of that here. Cea's mother was only 15 when she gave birth to her, the result of a coupling that Michelle had with a college student who turned out to be a pretty good guy, but not ready for wives and babies yet. They married, but soon divorced and A memoir of a child raised by a drug addled and sexually promiscuous mother, grandparents and aunts, North of Normal is east, west and south of normal too. Okay, there's no such thing as a normal upbringing, but there is decency and there is not much of that here. Cea's mother was only 15 when she gave birth to her, the result of a coupling that Michelle had with a college student who turned out to be a pretty good guy, but not ready for wives and babies yet. They married, but soon divorced and the whole family (Michelle's parents and sisters) moved to Canada to get back to nature. Nature was harsh though and the family endured many vicissitudes and was torn apart with Michelle and toddler Cea going off to live with a series of men that her Mom shacked up with, each progressively worse, until you guessed it, one of the creeps molested Cea at age eight. Even worse, Cea found out later when her mother was dying, that her mother knew he was molesting her. She was sort of encouraging the creep's interest in Cea, because they were dependent on him for money. I did feel a bit sorry for the mother, Michelle, because her parents were neglectful and self-absorbed too, especially Cea's grandfather. Michelle and her sisters were encouraged to run around nude and experiment with drugs and sex. That was how she was raised, so what can you expect? Papa even stole his son Dale's girlfriends from him. Dale developed mental illness as an adult, the other 2 siblings didn't fare much better, one became hooked on hard drugs and the other became a recluse. There is some light at the end though as the author seems to have made a good life for herself with a loving husband and 3 beautiful children of her own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    After reading the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was hungry for more stories of interesting unconventional styles of living when I stumbled upon this book sitting on the shelves, I grabbed it and noticed I had picked up an uncorrected proof copy not letting that bother me I dug in and what a story! A young girl living with her young mum and her hippy pot smoking Grandparents, two Auties and one Uncle live completely off the grid first in California and then in the Canadian wilderness with no After reading the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was hungry for more stories of interesting unconventional styles of living when I stumbled upon this book sitting on the shelves, I grabbed it and noticed I had picked up an uncorrected proof copy not letting that bother me I dug in and what a story! A young girl living with her young mum and her hippy pot smoking Grandparents, two Auties and one Uncle live completely off the grid first in California and then in the Canadian wilderness with no electricity or running tap water. They hunt and gather their food and make their own shelters and live in simple teepee's that are completely subjected to the wild elements, rain, storms and freezing cold temperatures. They live completely self sufficiently and this tells the many crazy stories of drugs, nudity and free love that inhibits her world. Despite this completely free but alternative lifestyle Cea craves a mother who actually mothers and all she can imagine is a "normal" conventional life with normal parents. It takes us through Cea's early childhood recollections to present day, and how she deals with her completely unusual upbringing and how it impacts her adult life. If you enjoy memoirs that give an insight to a different alternative life this is highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I had mixed feelings about this family throughout the book. The fault wasn't in the author's retelling of her story, but... I don't know. It made me uncomfortable in ways books don't normally do. I think maybe it was because I saw already in Papa Dick what Cea hadn't seen until she was older. I find it hard to criticize the "characters" in this "story" because it's a memoir, not figments of Person's mind. I really just disliked the whole hippy outlook I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I had mixed feelings about this family throughout the book. The fault wasn't in the author's retelling of her story, but... I don't know. It made me uncomfortable in ways books don't normally do. I think maybe it was because I saw already in Papa Dick what Cea hadn't seen until she was older. I find it hard to criticize the "characters" in this "story" because it's a memoir, not figments of Person's mind. I really just disliked the whole hippy outlook on life. It wasn't the drugs or sex as much as it was the entitlement and snobbery of the lifestyle, with a whole facade of a "simple" life inspired by the very people they unceremoniously squatted land from. I'm half native, so this family just bothered me in ways that made me cringe with their stereotypical and Hollywood-esque ideas of what living a life away from commercialism would be. It's interesting to see the irony in that. I'm not entirely sure what I should say, so I'll leave it at this; I am very happy that Cea is doing well and turned out healthy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Aile

    I found this memoir well worth reading on several levels. It was well-written, yes. But the emotional tone and the characters were more novel-like than memoirs usually are, and the story engaged me right at the beginning. I found it hard to put down! It was evocative of the age it described, authentic, and forced mental comparisons to lives I've known others to have led in those years, bringing questions and polemics to the surface to be examined that had long been silent or absent, especially a I found this memoir well worth reading on several levels. It was well-written, yes. But the emotional tone and the characters were more novel-like than memoirs usually are, and the story engaged me right at the beginning. I found it hard to put down! It was evocative of the age it described, authentic, and forced mental comparisons to lives I've known others to have led in those years, bringing questions and polemics to the surface to be examined that had long been silent or absent, especially about child rearing in an age of permissiveness and the role of parents. Touching on themes of reconciling benefits/detractions of a wilderness with a city lifestyle, the egotism of self-appointed prophets disaffected with society, a child's point of view of an adult world way out of kilter with 'normal' and the longing to discover what 'normal' means, this book captures our sympathy for the young Cea Person and what she lived through... and became as a result.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynne Spreen

    This was a page-turner. I still can't believe what I just read. What a fabulous memoir. The writing was great, and my emotions ranged from one extreme to another. Such resilience this little girl had, and bit of luck too, as she could have died at the hands of these animals who raised her, no matter how wounded they themselves may have been. I congratulate Ms. Person on her tenacity, and for managing to create a good life for herself in the end.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

    In her acknowledgements at the back of this book, the author cites Jeannette Walls and The Glass Castle as inspiration. If you loved that book, you will love North of Normal. In 1970, Cea Sunshine Person was born to a 16-year-old Californian who had moved with her counterculture parents and wildly dysfunctional siblings to the backwoods of western Canada. They lived in the bush, squatting on Indian land and raising pot for additional income. Cea's mother was erratic and passive, wanting only two In her acknowledgements at the back of this book, the author cites Jeannette Walls and The Glass Castle as inspiration. If you loved that book, you will love North of Normal. In 1970, Cea Sunshine Person was born to a 16-year-old Californian who had moved with her counterculture parents and wildly dysfunctional siblings to the backwoods of western Canada. They lived in the bush, squatting on Indian land and raising pot for additional income. Cea's mother was erratic and passive, wanting only two things in life: to have a man (any man would do) and to be stoned. As Cea grew up wild and barely civilized, it fell to her increasingly to raise her mother, through one bad relationship after another. She and her mother Michelle parted ways with the family when Cea was 5, only to live a nomadic life with Michelle's boyfriend Karl of theft, pot-raising and breaking into winterized cabins to sleep. Through one bad relationship after another, Cea was dragged by Michelle back and forth across British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon. At age 13, Cea was essentially emancipated from Michelle when she lied about her age to enter a modelling contest in Calgary. She was tall, slim and very mature for her age and went on to have a successful, lucrative career with very little of the trauma associated with modelling. Her survival skills had been honed to perfection long before any of the predators of the modelling world got near her. This book explores her life openly and honestly. It was heart-breakingly simple to fall in love with Cea, the toughest, smartest, most grounded member of her entire family of losers. To follow her through this narrative was equally fascinating and horrifying as she watched the so-called adults in her narrow world fall apart while she struggled to understand. That she is thriving now, and has the normal life she always craved, is testament to her spirit and strength, and to absolutely no one else in her family. What a wonderful book. I just loved it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    This is a book that deserves a LOT more attention. What a memoir! I was completely immersed in her weird hippy upbringing and at times I could even see the benefit of a childhood spent off the grid. I agree with other reviewers comparing this to The Glass Castle. It’s an unsentimental, laugh out loud and shocking account of a completely unconventional childhood. Its not only that her grandparents insisted in living in tipi huts in the wild, nor their demand for everyone to do yoga naked or Cea’s gr This is a book that deserves a LOT more attention. What a memoir! I was completely immersed in her weird hippy upbringing and at times I could even see the benefit of a childhood spent off the grid. I agree with other reviewers comparing this to The Glass Castle. It’s an unsentimental, laugh out loud and shocking account of a completely unconventional childhood. Its not only that her grandparents insisted in living in tipi huts in the wild, nor their demand for everyone to do yoga naked or Cea’s grandfather’s obsession with poop, it’s a combination of that and so much more. I found the beginning of the book almost idyllic and its only when Cea and her mother moved away from her grandparents that the book took a more serious turn. Cea had to endure her mother’s endless cycle of bad choices, moving in with one marijuana-growing, thieving boyfriend after another. This is a story of survival in its many forms, its surprisingly well written and most definitely worth the read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    If you loved The Glass Castle, you best add North of Normal to your reading list. Cea's mom, Michelle, was 16 when she was born, and the whole family decided to go and live in hand-made tee-pees in the wilderness. Her anti-establishment grandfather, Papa Dick, thought the best he could do for his family was to provide them with a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional lifestyle. For the first five years of Cea's life this suited her just fine, but as she becomes more aware of the fact that If you loved The Glass Castle, you best add North of Normal to your reading list. Cea's mom, Michelle, was 16 when she was born, and the whole family decided to go and live in hand-made tee-pees in the wilderness. Her anti-establishment grandfather, Papa Dick, thought the best he could do for his family was to provide them with a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional lifestyle. For the first five years of Cea's life this suited her just fine, but as she becomes more aware of the fact that some things makes her feel uncomfortable, she starts longing for a more stable, normal life. When Michelle decides to take Cea with her when following one of her many boyfriends, things slowly starts deteriorating even further to a point where there is no-one looking out for her but herself. There were many things I loved about this book - the many laugh out loud moments, but also the deep honesty when writing about some very upsetting situations and feelings. There is a sense of closure as the author shares with us what she had to work through to enable herself to settle down in a normal, happy relationship. The photo's were also a wonderful added element. I highly recommend this funny, upsetting, honest memoir to all my GR friends.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dianne

    If you enjoyed The Glass Castle, you will find this memoir equally astounding. A forest ranger from California moved his wife, four children and a granddaughter north to Canada. He did not work. They settled in the woods and lived an alternative lifestyle which involved drugs, free love and nude yoga. Those were the late 60s/early 70s the years of flower children and draft dodgers. The story is told from the perspective of the granddaughter who has a high level of intelligence. I could not put t If you enjoyed The Glass Castle, you will find this memoir equally astounding. A forest ranger from California moved his wife, four children and a granddaughter north to Canada. He did not work. They settled in the woods and lived an alternative lifestyle which involved drugs, free love and nude yoga. Those were the late 60s/early 70s the years of flower children and draft dodgers. The story is told from the perspective of the granddaughter who has a high level of intelligence. I could not put this book down.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    What is it that makes a neglected child still raise their arms in hope of being scooped up by a caretaker, even one that has betrayed them? It is this pure, earnest gesture that Cea Sunrise Person has captured in her memoir. The objectivity she conjured as a child gives voice to a sensitive and matter of fact retelling of both a wonderous and terribly raw child hood. This heartbreakingly resilient little girl somehow navigates a life with a frequently neglectful mother, no friends, no filter, an What is it that makes a neglected child still raise their arms in hope of being scooped up by a caretaker, even one that has betrayed them? It is this pure, earnest gesture that Cea Sunrise Person has captured in her memoir. The objectivity she conjured as a child gives voice to a sensitive and matter of fact retelling of both a wonderous and terribly raw child hood. This heartbreakingly resilient little girl somehow navigates a life with a frequently neglectful mother, no friends, no filter, and no bedroom to call her own. Lead by her fiercely anti establishment grandfather, her family; a bunch of rag tag wilderness gypsies, make their life off the grid and outside the conventions of society. Cea, endlessly carted along by her mother through harsh winters in the Canadian bush, dead end relationships with ne’er do well men, illegal squats in vacant cabins and never a friend, begins to suspect the life she is living is not normal. In her quest to find her place in the world, this smart child of the wild, uses her rabbit snaring skills in the most unlikely places. Snatched up by the fast paced, often unfriendly, fashion industry, she turns her survival skills into street smarts and becomes what she calls pretty normal, or at least just north of it. This is an incredible and true story. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christy

    4.5 Stars!! I love memoirs about lives completely different than my own, and this one is no exception! This is a story about a dysfunctional and unconventional family. Even though there is elements of certain kinds of abuse, Cea's existence seemed like a mostly happy one -- at least in her eyes as she was a young girl growing up. Her Grandparent's moved into the Canadian wilderness to escape civilization. Cea's mom was a young teenager at the time. They lived in an environment fueled with drugs 4.5 Stars!! I love memoirs about lives completely different than my own, and this one is no exception! This is a story about a dysfunctional and unconventional family. Even though there is elements of certain kinds of abuse, Cea's existence seemed like a mostly happy one -- at least in her eyes as she was a young girl growing up. Her Grandparent's moved into the Canadian wilderness to escape civilization. Cea's mom was a young teenager at the time. They lived in an environment fueled with drugs and sex, and Cea's Grandfather pushed a clothing optional lifestyle. They lived without running water or electricity, yet seemed overall happy in the early days. Cea's mom couldn't function without a boyfriend - so she took her on the road to follow one boyfriend or another. This is where Cea began to question all she knew about her world and when she began to yearn to just be normal. I did this one on audio -- and couldn't stop listening! Some of the story was funny, yet some of the story was appalling! The things Cea saw during her childhood was just shocking / disgusting (her mother constantly having sex within feet of her). However, this was definitely a story about resilience and overcoming the worst circumstances -- she found her normal! I thought this was a beautifully written memoir.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Belle

    If you need a book to compare Educated to this is the one. Cea Sunrise Person deserves the attention that Tara Westover has received.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I came across this book (in e-book form) for a good price on BookBub, and decided to give it a try -- mostly because it was described as "a Canadian version of The Glass Castle." I'm giving this book three stars, though it could have easily been four. Three comments: First of all, it's not as good as The Glass Castle. This is hardly surprising, as Jeannette Walls is a career writer (and an award winning one at that), and Cea Sunrise Person is not. However it was very well, and very entertainingly I came across this book (in e-book form) for a good price on BookBub, and decided to give it a try -- mostly because it was described as "a Canadian version of The Glass Castle." I'm giving this book three stars, though it could have easily been four. Three comments: First of all, it's not as good as The Glass Castle. This is hardly surprising, as Jeannette Walls is a career writer (and an award winning one at that), and Cea Sunrise Person is not. However it was very well, and very entertainingly written, from almost start to finish. I say almost because the last few chapters (which bring us to the present) felt as if they were written in a rush. The quality of writing actually felt different, and, at least in my e-book edition, there were a bunch of formatting issues which had not occurred anywhere else in the book. The biggest difference between North of Normal and The Glass Castle (or at least the difference which most affected my reading enjoyment), was the presence of sexual abuse. Both North of Normal and The Glass Castle are filled with horrific stories of broken families, depression, alcohol (and other) abuse, neglect, children caring for parents, etc. But the one redeeming quality of The Glass Castle is that the lack of sexual abuse made it seem a bit easier to read. This is not true of North of Normal, which includes several incidents of sexual abuse. This made it a significantly more difficult read, and is the main reason why I'm putting it at three stars instead of four. I'm not trying to condemn the author for including these details -- autobiographies are true life stories, not fictional narratives which can be crafted to fit the audience -- and neither does this make North of Normal a bad book. However it does make it a more difficult book to read, and that affects how I recommend it. I'm afraid that because of this content I would be leery of recommending this book to most people. One thing I did appreciate about the book is that it had a more honest and frank portrayal of the damage of this family situation. In these "glass castle" kinds of autobiographies there are two factors which tend to minimize or downplay the impact: the use of a naive, child narrator, who simply recounts events without any judgement; and the survivor narrative, which wants to present the characters as conquering or escaping their situation. North of Normal includes a section of later life, which recognized the real and ongoing impact her upbringing had on her. Though this positive was undercut by the very end, which tried to find a silver lining to some of the family members and situations, and seemed to value closure and some level of reconciliation over an honest view. Overall, I found it to be an interesting read and well written. But I find it a bit hard to recommend because of the content involved.

  15. 5 out of 5

    D

    A fascinating autobiographical story about growing up in a hippie family in the wilds of Western Canada. At times dramatic but usually very funny. The only weaker part comes at the end, when all turns out well. Recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liza Fireman

    I guess that I am very intrigued by true life stories, and especially true life stories of people that come from impossibly tough backgrounds. This one was very well written and very interesting. I want to mention a few more true coming of age stories first: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray and of course all FDLS books, such as Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father-Warren Jeffs-Polygamy, I guess that I am very intrigued by true life stories, and especially true life stories of people that come from impossibly tough backgrounds. This one was very well written and very interesting. I want to mention a few more true coming of age stories first: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard by Liz Murray and of course all FDLS books, such as Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father-Warren Jeffs-Polygamy, and the FLDS Cult by Rachel Jeffs. All of these bring very hard life circumstances, and amazing people coming out of this childhood. North of Normal is the story of Cea. She was born to a 15 years old mother, living with her grandparents and ant. Her grandparents decided years before to live the lives of free people. They lived in an Indian Reserve and did nothing except drugs and sex with everyone that got close to their door. And then Cea lived in such a place, that have no one to care for her in some of the time, even though her mother loved her. “Oh, Cea, just relax. It’s natural for these things to happen to your body. After all, you’re a teenager now.” She smiled at me again and shook her head. “Thirteen. Same age I was when I—” “—lost your virginity and smoked pot for the first time,” And for them it was natural. The grandma for example was constantly high since she was a teenager herself. She found the life problems goes away with pot. And Cea somehow survived things like this: “Are you serious? Mom, you’re offering me pot!” She shrugged. “Yeah, well, you’re drinking alcohol, and that’s no better. I’d rather you did this, at least it’s natural. Why don’t you just try it? Maybe it’ll help you . . . I don’t know. Relax a little.” Later on, she moved with her mom to live with Karl. Leaving the granparent was hard for Cea, who loved them and lived with them all her life. And Papa Dick is the most awkward, self centered perton that could exist:I sniffled and nodded. “But . . . but when will I see you and Grandma Jeanne again?” “I don’t know. Someday, probably. But until then, you need to live as if your grandmother and I never even existed. All right?” Karl himself was overall good, but broke and a burglar. The did live in very bad conditions and places. “It must be terribly difficult for you,” my grandmother said. “Being out in the bush like that, no running water and such. The years there ended and the mom, as usual went to another men, some were really awful. Cea got herself out of all of this and into modeling. She is an extremely beautiful lady. she moved to NYC on her own when she was only 14 or so (and lied about her age, because she always looked older). It is a miracle and also Cea's amazing character that she grew up to be a great person and didn't die or fell to drugs or other awful things. 4 stars. And all the stars for surviving this.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gail Amendt

    This is a fascinating memoir of the author's childhood with her horribly dysfunctional hippy family...her pot smoking, free loving grandparents, her somewhat simple minded teenage mother, and her mentally unstable aunts and uncle. The family moved from California to western Canada shortly before she was born, and lived through harsh Canadian winters in tipis and tents, squatting on public or native land, and living off the land. That she survived this childhood and has created a normal life for This is a fascinating memoir of the author's childhood with her horribly dysfunctional hippy family...her pot smoking, free loving grandparents, her somewhat simple minded teenage mother, and her mentally unstable aunts and uncle. The family moved from California to western Canada shortly before she was born, and lived through harsh Canadian winters in tipis and tents, squatting on public or native land, and living off the land. That she survived this childhood and has created a normal life for herself is amazing, and a testament to the resilience of children. She writes about her family and her experiences with honesty and a great deal of insight. The story is very well written and flows well, and although at many times disturbing, stops short of being too graphic. I couldn't put it down.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Spider the Doof Warrior

    Well this was a rather difficult read. There's nothing in the world that stresses me out more than children being abused books. But I read them anyway! Then stress myself out! It makes no sense! This book is even MORE stressful than The Glass Castle. But Cea does manage to pull her life together despite it all and even love her mother but it just makes me so angry that her mother let this stuff happen to her. But she in turn was ALSO molested and raped too! So, it's as depressing, difficult book Well this was a rather difficult read. There's nothing in the world that stresses me out more than children being abused books. But I read them anyway! Then stress myself out! It makes no sense! This book is even MORE stressful than The Glass Castle. But Cea does manage to pull her life together despite it all and even love her mother but it just makes me so angry that her mother let this stuff happen to her. But she in turn was ALSO molested and raped too! So, it's as depressing, difficult book to get through. Parts of it made me cringe. It was rather raw, but good. But stressful!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rama

    The children of lesser God This is an absolutely fascinating story of a young woman who grew up in Canadian wilderness with her grandparents and her mother away from civilization. She was born into a counter-culture family that did not believe in traditional lifestyles. She lived in under a canvas tipi where almost anything could and would happen; drugs, alcohol, sex, nudity and carefree living. This was certainly not normal for the young Cea Sunrise Person who had strong desires for a healthy an The children of lesser God This is an absolutely fascinating story of a young woman who grew up in Canadian wilderness with her grandparents and her mother away from civilization. She was born into a counter-culture family that did not believe in traditional lifestyles. She lived in under a canvas tipi where almost anything could and would happen; drugs, alcohol, sex, nudity and carefree living. This was certainly not normal for the young Cea Sunrise Person who had strong desires for a healthy and normal life with her family. But her mother’s constant search for a true love made her travel all over; they all turned out to be ill-fated adventures. Her mother’s boyfriends had no interest in the young Cea, which deprived her of a fatherly figure in her life. Cea knew little of the world beyond the forest she lived. She spent her summers playing in the meadow and her winters snowshoeing with her grandfather whom she idolized. Despite severe winter storms, food shortages, and drugs-sex-alcohol parties, she still likes to think her little existence was a happy one. The author narrates her story beautifully; fresh in her memory of the scars that was created mainly by her mother that had severe impact on her life. She had a successful modeling career in her teenage years, travelled on her own, worked and attended school and paid her mother’s bills. Despite that her mother knew little about her modelling life in NY, Los Angeles, and Paris during summers between schools. At 15, Cea was in Paris on her own and her mom did not even care and her grandfather whom she remembers fondly never responded to letters or cared to return her calls. Life was not a bed of roses. She had to use cocaine and have sex with a fashion photographer to make it in modeling business; a gypsy boy had snatched her bag from her shoulder leaving her penniless and without a passport; a man in Paris Metro had masturbated on her hair, yet she had to deal all this without her mother. Life was tough, but then again she was better off without her mom. 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. On the lesser side of the story, I am a little puzzled about the title of the book, North of Normal. Is she talking about her current life as a happily married woman with three children? The book covers mostly her childhood and her teenage years which are anything but normal. This is a heartwarming story of Cea who ultimately finds happiness that was denied to her in younger days. This is a successful tale of self-discovery in the midst of adversity; she still finds strength and courage to turnaround her life triumphantly. This is a great eye-opener for many unfortunate women who grew up in difficult families. Memoirs like this inspire others to face things in life boldly and courageously.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    hippie family moving from bay area to wilds of alberta, told from the youngest daughters pov. compelling and fun and paradigm questioning, and soooo fucked up the law shoulda been involved, n i hate the law.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    Oh, this just didn't work out for me. Once you read an unconventional autobiography, you read 'em all... And I have read a few of those. This book caught my attention but failed to hold it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person is a highly recommended memoir of growing up in the 70's in an unusual family. The full title of North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both really tells you what Cea Person's life was like growing up off the grid and in a family where free love, free thinking, and drugs are the norm and common place - even when the norm isn't necessarily what is best for everyone, especially children. The poor parenting go North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person is a highly recommended memoir of growing up in the 70's in an unusual family. The full title of North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both really tells you what Cea Person's life was like growing up off the grid and in a family where free love, free thinking, and drugs are the norm and common place - even when the norm isn't necessarily what is best for everyone, especially children. The poor parenting goes back to her grandparents, FYI, although her mother, Michelle, should have been shaken and told to snap out of it and grow up. This memoir is one of those that convinces me that not everyone should have children or have the "right" to raise a child simple because they procreated. While you will read this and applaud Cea's ability to overcome her background and survive, even thrive, many will, like me, ask what toll did her childhood also cost her. And also many will, like me, realize that this story of one person's success doesn't mean all the other neglected children out there will have the same fortitude to overcome an awful childhood. So, while this was an engrossing memoir, it is also a nerve wracking. Michelle was so poorly equipped to be a parent and, quite frankly, clueless and stupid, that young Cea is lucky she escaped being sexually abused. Many of the ideals embraced by her mother and grandparents ultimately proved less than noble or endearing as they were lived out in reality. I really wondered if there was something more going on, perhaps some mental health issues with the grandparents that were also present in Michelle, Cea's mother (and certainly proven in her uncle Dane). Much like Jeanette Walls The Glass Castle, North of Norma is a compelling memoir - even while it infuriates you. Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins for review purposes.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sian Lile-Pastore

    I could not stop reading this book - it was so addictive. It's a memoir about wilderness living from a child's point of view, and while there's freedom and connection with the land, there is also a whole load of weirdness, sex, drugs, severe mental health issues and abuse - to be honest it made me all a bit anxious. It's not in the slightest self pitying though - I admire Cea's bravery and strength and the memoir that she's put together here.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    Crazy story, reminiscent of The Glass Castle. It's incredible to think about what other people are living while I go about my pretty average life. This is NOT an average story! Crazy story, reminiscent of The Glass Castle. It's incredible to think about what other people are living while I go about my pretty average life. This is NOT an average story!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    Fascinating story, but shallowly written. The prose lacked depth, though, on the other hand, this made it a more accessible read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    This is a glimpse into a life so out of the norm, most people probably could not conceive of this type of family. It was a truly unusual biography, in the same way Glass Castle was. It expanded my ideas of family, raising children, and the role of parents. What an unusual life Cea led. She was a little too easy on her father, compared to how tough she was on her mother. Her mother was a pretty terrible mother, but clearly her mother did as well or better than her own parents did. The whole famil This is a glimpse into a life so out of the norm, most people probably could not conceive of this type of family. It was a truly unusual biography, in the same way Glass Castle was. It expanded my ideas of family, raising children, and the role of parents. What an unusual life Cea led. She was a little too easy on her father, compared to how tough she was on her mother. Her mother was a pretty terrible mother, but clearly her mother did as well or better than her own parents did. The whole family was so messed up. The dad was mostly absent and then was allowed to come in after the mother had done the hard work and he got to seem like a pretty good guy. That didn't sit well with me, especially because he easily could have had Cea live with him when she ended up having to live with her grandparents. That said, Cea's telling of what seemed to be such an unusual story was told with a normalcy that really helped me imagine living her life. I think someone who had lived such an existence could have been very bitter or angry. The fact that her retelling was more matter of fact than it was blaming or complaining, made this an extremely engrossing book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    North of Normal is a memoir of a girl growing up first in the wilderness, and I mean the wilderness, and then floating from one temporary residence to another with her stoned and simple minded mother. She is exposed to things a child should not see and expected to take care of herself in many ways. It's a crazy, crazy life she starts out with and I went along for the ride full steam ahead. REally didn't put this book down till I was done. It's the Glass Castle and then some. The thing is, people North of Normal is a memoir of a girl growing up first in the wilderness, and I mean the wilderness, and then floating from one temporary residence to another with her stoned and simple minded mother. She is exposed to things a child should not see and expected to take care of herself in many ways. It's a crazy, crazy life she starts out with and I went along for the ride full steam ahead. REally didn't put this book down till I was done. It's the Glass Castle and then some. The thing is, people live in all different ways in this world whether we like it or not. Cea Sunrise Person decided at an early age to live a "normal" life, one way or the other, and she just needed to figure out what "normal" might be. I could relate to her on quite a few levels.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    What can I say? This is truly the best book I have read this year yet. Very descriptive story of a young girl growing up with dysfunctional parents, grandparents and extended family. If you liked "Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls, you will enjoy this book even more! I have to admit that parts of the book left me totally flabbergasted! So difficult to believe what the author went through! An incredible read, and a book that makes me very grateful for my very normal and happy upbringing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ron S

    Former model Clea Sunrise Person writes about growing up off the grid in Alberta and BC, with back to the land grandparents and a stoner hippie mom. A child's perspective in't usually the voice we hear. This book reminded me a bit of Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut. Great YA crossover for a digital generation raised in fear of direct experience and the outdoors.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Gehl

    This book completely captivated me from start to finish. Cea's life story is nothing short of amazing and I admire her strength for being able to tell her story. The comparisons to "The Glass Castle" are totally validated and Cea actually thanks Jeannette Walls in her acknowledgements for giving her the courage to share the story of her unconventional upbringing. Definitely a new favourite that I will be recommending to many!

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