If you’re familiar with Rachel Bloom’s work, you’ve probably come to expect a certain level of theatricality from the writer and actress. Bloom’s YouTube parodies of Britney Spears music videos and animated Disney princesses proved that her talent radiated across genres. When she found a larger audience through her musical TV show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she normalized antidepressants through tapdance and dressed up as a “sexy fashion cactus” to sing about unrequited love — confirming that silly songs can have an emotional impact.
In her debut book, I Want to be Where the Normal People Are, Bloom finds innovative ways to ensure her theater-kid energy bursts out of every page. As the title suggests, this collection of essays and stories details the ways Bloom has been made to feel abnormal, and how she’s learned to embrace that inner weirdo. From middle-school bullies to personal struggles with OCD, her experiences form visceral accounts of how self-consciousness can build through childhood and adolescence. Taken together, they demonstrate that feeling like an outsider is a universal experience.
This is not a typical memoir. Unsurprisingly, Bloom follows no rules and consistently breaks form. While there are some straightforward personal essays in this collection, they are outnumbered by creatively framed ones. A history of Bloom’s romantic relationships is told as a fairy tale in which a witch curses her to be the “The Lamest Mistress.” Dramatic entries from childhood diaries are reimagined as the diagram for an amusement park called “Original Narrative Fun Times Thrill World.” These unexpected tangents are the book’s strongest points. What nerd wouldn’t be delighted to find Harry Potter fan fiction among the essays in this collection?
If you are concerned that Bloom’s musical genius would go unacknowledged in this form, think again. The apex of her theatricality comes at “How Can I Explain?” It’s the origin story of Bloom’s love affair with musical theater written as — you guessed it — a musical! The script is in the book, but you can also hear Bloom perform it on her website.
As the book progresses and Bloom takes us through experiences from her adult life, childhood insecurities catch up with her time and time again. This isn’t disheartening, though — just an acknowledgement that the self-consciousness learned in adolescence is inescapable. It follows us through college and first jobs, cuts through relationships, and can alter our perception of ourselves. But seeing Bloom harness her perceived oddities to fuel a unique career proves the usefulness of our own unusual traits. After all, these are the qualities that create successful, boundary-breaking adults.
Emily Marinoff is a culture writer and audio producer. Her writing has appeared in Roads & Kingdoms and Buzzfeed, and she currently makes podcasts at iHeartMedia. She is especially enthusiastic about bread making.