Unemployed, dissatisfied Dmitry takes a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles with Ramon, a free spirit. Both are Russian émigrés who have lost their way and their identity. With adventure, new friends, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, they wend their way across America to find freedom and to discover themselves.

Theme of the Book

Why Be Normal? is the search for freedom, for identity, and for values that is a normal part of life for young people, be they émigrés or natural born citizens. As Mr. Wild succinctly puts it, “All roads lead to the same place, but everyone’s way of getting there is different. The passengers and drivers that help us get there may change, but the most profound feeling we can share as people is traveling together.

What I Liked About the Story

Dmitry is a fascinating character. Moving from his native Russia to the US at a difficult age (early teens), he has a hard time fitting in. First he decides to become totally American, changing his name to Danny and playing in a rock and roll band. But Dimitry learns that he is still Russian and does not fit into American culture as easily as he had hoped.

As a young man, he quits his job and moves in with another Russian émigré, Vlad, and lives a life of complete debauchery. When the opportunity comes to drive from New York to California with yet a third émigré, Roman, Dimitry takes a chance and this chance changes his life.

Although he tries to go with the flow, Dmitry remains a somewhat suspicious and cautious character. The reader can see that he really wants to let go of this part of his personality and give in to the moment, but it is quite difficult for him to do so. Unlike Roman, Dmitry worries constantly about money, having enough food, and having a place to sleep.

This difference in their personalities is best seen in the section “Trailer Park John” where it is clear that, despite his best efforts, Dmitry will never be as open as Roman. And yet, in this section, we get the hint that Roman is not as free as he pretends to be and it is not until the end of the book that we find out what ties Roman is rebelling against.

The book is full of a young person’s philosophy: normal is the enemy; freedom comes with living in the moment; we are all brothers. The book is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”, with similar themes and episodes.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

While both Dmitry and Roman are wonderful to read about, they are both immature and not very likeable. There were several times that I, as a reader, wanted to slap some sense into them!

The book is also replete with strong language and sex. Readers who find these things offensive may not appreciate the “freedom” that sex, drugs, and rock and roll symbolize to a young audience.

Final Say

Although punctuated with college student philosophy, Why be Normal? is full of humor, adventure, and wonderful characters. It made me want to take a road trip. Fans of Kerouac will enjoy this updated version of a road trip saga.

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