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

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More About North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person

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.

  • ISBN-13: 9780062289865
  • ISBN-10: 0062289861
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Publish Date: June 2014
  • Page Count: 339
  • Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Personal Memoirs
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Women

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-05-05
  • Reviewer: Staff

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)

BookPage Reviews

From the Canadian wilderness to the international runway

There are many reasons to love a good misery memoir: In my case, reading about other people’s dysfunctional childhoods offers a sense of community, a sisterhood of resilient Gen Xers who survived a 1970s childhood. Cea Sunrise Person’s engaging new memoir, North of Normal, evokes both the miserable excesses and occasional beauty of growing up in a counterculture family in the wilderness of the Me Decade.

For the Person family, the wilderness was real. Cea’s grandfather Dick was not only committed to living off the land, but highly skilled at doing so and deeply suspicious of Western civilization. He takes his family—grandma Jeanne, baby Cea, her teenage mother and two aunts—from California into the Canadian outback to live in a tipi and survive off game and wild plants. Clothing is optional, sex is out in the open, and much pot is smoked.

This outback idyll of sorts is broken up by Cea’s mother, who follows one man after another into questionable circumstances. Cea is lucky, she is told, to have a mother who loves her, but as Cea grows older she wants the one thing her mother can’t give her: normality. Leaving home at 13, Cea breaks with her family toward independence, which is seen as a betrayal.

While the strength and resilience Cea learns in the wilderness help her survive the predators of the “civilized” world (she goes on to become an internationally successful model), it’s a long journey to normal, whatever that is. There’s not a shred of self-pity here, which makes the depiction of a child adrift in hippie decadence all the more affecting. North of Normal offers readers a well-crafted story and a sensible, clear-eyed narrator.


This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews