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  • Freshman Book Series

    This guide provides resources supporting each year's common read.

    Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines

    Book cover for Normal SucksThe Freshman book selected for the Class of 2026 is Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines by Jonathan Mooney.


    Confessional and often hilarious, in Normal Sucks a neuro-diverse writer, advocate, and father meditates on his life, offering the radical message that we should stop trying to fix people and start empowering them to succeed.

    Jonathan Mooney blends anecdote, expertise, and memoir to present a new mode of thinking about how we live and learn—individually, uniquely, and with advantages and upshots to every type of brain and body. As a neuro-diverse kid diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD who didn't learn to read until he was twelve, the realization that that he wasn’t the problem—the system and the concept of normal were—saved Mooney’s life and fundamentally changed his outlook. Here he explores the toll that being not normal takes on kids and adults when they’re trapped in environments that label them, shame them, and tell them, even in subtle ways, that they are the problem. But, he argues, if we can reorient the ways in which we think about diversity, abilities, and disabilities, we can start a revolution.

    A highly sought after public speaker, Mooney has been inspiring audiences with his story and his message for nearly two decades. Now he’s ready to share what he’s learned from parents, educators, researchers, and kids in a book that is as much a survival guide as it is a call to action. Whip-smart, insightful, and utterly inspiring—and movingly framed as a letter to his own young sons, as they work to find their ways in the world—this audiobook will upend what we call normal and empower us all.

    ** From the publisher


    The book looks at the following themes:

    • Ableism
    • Accessibility 
    • Bullying
    • Difference
    • Diversity
    • Education and Educational Systems
    • Family, Community, and Belonging
    • Learning Disabilities (Dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, etc.)
    • Mental Health
    • Mentoring
    • Neurodivergence
    • Pathology and Medicalization
    • Struggle and Perseverance

    Author Information

    Jonathan Mooney is a dyslexic writer and activist who learned to read when he was 12-years-old. He since earned an honors degree in English Literature at Brown University and has written and published two books.

    The first, "Learning Outside The Lines" (now in its 14th printing) hit bookshelves when he was 23. Coupled with his most recent book, "The Short Bus," Jonathan has established himself as one of the foremost leaders in LD/ADHD, disabilities, and alternative education.

    Jonathan also founded and is President of Project Eye-To-Eye, a mentoring and advocacy non-profit organization for students with learning differences. Project Eye-To-Eye currently has 20 chapters, in 13 states working with over 3,000 students, parents and educators nation wide.

    Jonathan won the prestigious Truman Scholarship for graduate studies in disability studies and social change, and was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

    In 2003, the LD Access Foundation recognized his work for students with disabilities with the Golden Advocacy award. Previous honorees include David Boies, Judith Rodin, former President of The University of Pennsylvania, and former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean.

    Jonathan is a highly sought-after speaker and has lectured in 43 states and three countries. He has lectured at: Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, Brown University, the University of Wisconsin School of Education, New York University Medical School's Grand Rounds, Teachers College Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Vassar College and many other institutions of higher education.

    Jonathan also has given keynote addresses at most major national education conferences and speaks frequently to students of all ages.

    Jonathan has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, NPR, ABC News, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and numerous other local and regional papers in the cities, states, and countries where Jonathan has traveled.

    ** From Premiere Speakers Bureau

    Author Intervew

    Discussion Questions

    Normal Sucks is part memoir and part sociology. The content and structure of the text provides a lot of area for discussion related to education, perseverance, culture, equity, and accessibility. Here are a few discussion questions to get you started talking about the book.

    • How do you define "normal"? 
    • Jonathan Mooney openly discusses his learning disabilities. How do you relate to his experience?
    • The book is structured as a letter to the author's children? What do you think about that format? Why do you think the author chose it?
    • The author spends a lot of time writing about how "normal" came to be. What did you think of the history?
    • The author was made to "feel stupid" for his learning differences. How has society's definition of normal negatively impacted you?
    • There is privilege in who gets to be "not normal." Who gets that privilege? Why?
    • Why do you think science and society feel the need to create and enforce "normal"?
    • The book discusses how "normal" is equated to good and moral. Why is this a problem?
    • The author discusses how "normal" was defined by and created for white men. How do you see this trend perpetuated in your life?
    • Which systems uphold the idea of "normal"? How?
    • What role did bullying and exclusion play in the author's life? Who were the bullies?
    • The author discusses how we label things as "not normal." What role does labelling play in your life?
    • The book shares how naming things as "normal" means anything "abnormal" must be fixed. How do you see this in action today?
    • The tone of the book is almost snarky with off-handed jokes and abundant humor. How does the tone of the writing impact your reading of the book and the effectiveness of the author's argument?
    • Why do you think the author chose to use humor in his book?
    • In what ways have you been told to "act normal"? Why do you think you were told that?
    • The author shares about the importance of having mentors and people who care about you. What value do you think this had?
    • How did education and social environments negatively impact the author? How do these same systems appear in your life?
    • The author states that defining things as "normal" creates a power structure. What do you think?
    • Jonathan Mooney says that his story has been contorted to show him overcoming and persevering through his learning disabilities. Why does he think this is a problem?
    • What were you most shocked to read or learn? Why?
    • The last line of the books is, "You have a right to be different." What do you think of this?

    Related Books

    Research Resources

    Instructor Resources

    The ideas in the tabs above act as prompts to help you develop discussions, projects, or assignments related to Normal Sucks. They offer suggestions for ideas to include in your class or on your syllabus.

    Here are some tips for leading a successful book discussion:

    Before the Discussion

    • Read the book completely and take notes about the themes, motifs, and topics. Write down important page numbers and highlight important passages.
    • Come up with eight to ten questions about the book. 

    During the Discussion

    • Ask your question and let others answer first.
    • Make connections between comments.
    • Ask follow-up questions.
    • Bring the conversation back to the discussion if people go off on tangents.
    • Don't feel obligated to ask all your questions.
    • Don't end a conversation if people are on-topic and really enjoying what they are sharing.
    • Wrap up the discussion by highlighting key points.
    • Thank the participants.

    The following may be used as project prompts for Normal Sucks.

    • Draft a proposal to fix for a school policy or procedure you think is unfair.
    • Create a collage or other art project that shows how you learn.
    • Design a vision board that celebrates how you are not average.
    • Look at a test, policy, or procedure that enforces normal. Create an option for a better version.
    • Pick a product or service. Provide ways that it can be improved to work for more people.
    • Interview someone about how they are not normal. Create a podcast from the interview.

    The following may be used as writing prompts for Normal Sucks.

    • The author frames this book as a letter to his children. Write a letter about yourself to someone.
    • How do you learn differently? Design an assignment that works to your strengths.
    • Write a speech you could give to kids about how you learn.
    • Write a new dictionary definition for "normal."
    • Write a list of words and phrases that enforce "normal." Then write alternatives that can be used in their place.
    • The author writes, "Normal is a statistical fiction." Pick a "normal" statistic and discuss why it is wrong.
    • Create a list of your labels. Explain why you have been labeled this way.