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Sex, drugs and . . . bug stew? An utterly compelling tale of survival—of nature, family and genetics
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 northern Alberta. 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 in a canvas Teepee, grew pot, and hunted and gathered to survive.
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 was a happy existence. For Michelle, however, 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 made in order to get the life she craved.
From nature child to international model by the age of thirteen, Cea's astonishing saga is one of long-held family secrets and extreme family dysfunction, all in an incredibly unusual setting. It is also the story of one girl's deep-seated desire for normality—a desire that enabled her to risk everything, overcome adversity and achieve her dreams.
1. Clearly Cea's normal changed substantially from the time she was born to her teen years
to adulthood. Describe how your own normal has changed since your childhood.
2. Do you think Grandma Jeanne was genuinely happy living in the wilderness, or was she
just going along with her husband's wishes?
3. The Person family certainly had their share of tribulations. Aside from Dane and Jessie,
do you think the rest of the family—Michelle, Jan, Papa Dick and Grandma Jeanne—
suffered from mental illness?
4. North of Normal is a story of resilience. Do you think Cea was born resilient, or did she
become so out of necessity? What about our own children today-do you think they need
a high dose of adversity to become resilient?
5. At one point in the book, Cea's paternal grandparents offer to raise Cea, but Michelle
refuses. As unprepared for motherhood as she was, why do you think she refused? And
why do you think Cea's father didn't try harder to "rescue" Cea from her circumstances?
Do you think Cea would have been better off in foster care?
6. What do you think of Karl? Was he a danger-crazed narcissist, or a man who genuinely
cared for Cea and was doing the best he could to provide for her and Michelle?
7. Why do you think Cea felt so conflicted about being molested by Barry? Why didn't she
see herself as the victim and him as the perpetrator?
8. What do you think of the way Michelle was raised by her parents? Was it a healthy, all accepting environment, or over-permissive?
9. Cea's view of Papa Dick changed significantly from childhood to adulthood. Describe the
events that caused this change, and if you think she was justified in her feelings.
10. The theme of survival is multilayered in the book. What do you think has been the most
important survival lesson in your own life?
11. Which character in the book made you the angriest? Who did you feel had the best
12. What did you think about Papa Dick's philosophy of living without fear? Is it foolishness
or something to strive for?
13. Cea often felt like she didn't fit in. Name a time in your life you either felt like you did not
fit in or felt for someone else who didn't. If you noticed it, did you do anything about it?
14. Cea was lucky that she had the physical requirements for becoming a model. If she
hadn't, do you think she would have languished with her family, or found another way to escape them?
15. Why do you think that Cea didn't fall into any of the typical pitfalls of the modeling
industry (ie drugs, alcohol, casual sex) in her teens? And why do you think she
succumbed and struggled with all of them later, in her mid and late twenties?
16. Why do you think Cea didn't try to repair relations with her family members, and viceversa, until her early thirties?
17. Of all the trials Cea went through, which do you think the most difficult was for her, and
18. Do you think Cea would have been more or less successful in her career had she been
raised by a more conventional family?
19. What do you think about moving an entire family to the wilderness? Would you ever
attempt an experiment like that, even for a short time?
20. What was it about this book that resonated with you the most?