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Sara and the Search for Normal



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About The Book

“It’s the vivid, insightful depiction of Sara’s internal struggles that readers will remember.” —Booklist

In this prequel to the Edgar Award–winning OCDaniel, fan-favorite Sara quests for “normal” and finds something even better along the way.

Sara’s Rules to Be Normal

1. Stop taking your pills
19. Make a friend
137. Don’t put mayonnaise on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Sara wants one thing: to be normal. What she has instead are multiple diagnoses from Dr. Ring. Sara’s constant battle with False Alarm—what she calls panic attacks—and other episodes cause her to isolate herself. She rarely speaks, especially not at school, and so she doesn’t have any friends. But when she starts group therapy she meets someone new. Talkative and outgoing Erin doesn’t believe in “normal,” and Sara finds herself in unfamiliar territory: at the movies, at a birthday party, and with someone to tell about her crush—in short, with a friend. But there’s more to Erin than her cheerful exterior, and Sara begins to wonder if helping Erin will mean sacrificing their friendship.


Chapter 1: My Happy Family NOTE
If you ask a blue whale what she thinks about—if you sing whale, of course—you might be surprised. Most people would guess it was about krill, or ocean currents, or maybe if she was due for some air. But it could also be about her baby who swam off two years ago and whether he found a girlfriend. Or that dolphins are silly. Or maybe that the stars look beautiful tonight, even from underwater. We can’t ask her, so we all just kind of assume it’s the krill.

Do me a favor, even if it is just for this story: Assume it’s the stars.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to


Sara and the Search for Normal

By Wesley King

About the Books

Sara’s mind plays games: games like False Alarm, the Lead Ball, and Danger Game, each one more unnerving than the next. Her hope is to quiet the way her mind speaks to her and find her own “normal.” She meets with Dr. Ring’s therapy group and discovers that there are more kids like her, all searching for their own paths. One of them becomes a friend, and it’s Erin who welcomes Sara as a Star Child, someone who has special or unusual traits or abilities. After meeting Erin, Sara can feel the change inside her. Erin opens Sara’s world to new people and situations she never expected to experience, and she comes to find that she’s stronger than she ever believed she could be.

At school, Sara has noticed a boy named Daniel and suspects that he is also a Star Child. Daniel’s mind also does many unnerving things. Every time he sees a bad number, he gets a Zap. Before he can go to bed at night, he must follow an exact routine. If he falls into the Great Space, nothing makes sense in the world except for his fear and his desperate need to try to fix things. He is certain that his behaviors aren’t normal, and he carefully hides them from his friends and family. One day, Sara says hello to Daniel, and he begins to realize that she’s guessed some of his secrets. After she asks him to help her solve a mystery, the two begin spending time together, finding connections, strength, and friendship in their commonality.

Discussion Questions

1. Both Sara and the Search for Normal and OCDaniel look at mental health from inside the mind of someone living with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other neurodiversities. Why do you think that it’s important to read and talk about mental health awareness? Had you heard about any of these mental illnesses before reading these books? If so, have you ever talked about them with anyone? Did these stories change anything about the way you think of mental illnesses? Explain your answers.

2. The author uses both slang and medical terminology throughout the books. Why do you think the author creates names for Sara’s and Daniel’s disorders? Do those invented names give you a better idea of what those disorders are like? Do you think it is important to use correct terminology when it comes to identifying and discussing mental health?

3. Discuss the inappropriate words that are used throughout the stories to describe mental health. Why do you think the author chooses to include offensive language when certain characters speak about and to Sara? Why do you think Sara uses some of these words to describe herself and others in the therapy group? Why does Daniel describe himself as “crazy” and “bonkers”? Explain your answers.

4. The opening line of Sara and the Search for Normal reads, “Introductions are hard, so let’s just start by punching something.” OCDaniel begins with “I first realized I was crazy on a Tuesday.” What do these lines tell us about the stories themselves, and about the points of view of the main characters?

5. When reading the introduction of Sara and the Search for Normal, how do you feel about Sara’s dressing room story and the way that she chooses to disclose her medical diagnoses? What is your first impression of Sara? Does that change throughout the book, or as you read OCDaniel? Explain your answers using examples from the books.

6. Daniel refers to himself as an “eccentric thirteen-year-old social oddity,” and gets embarrassed if he thinks anyone has witnessed his Zaps, but most of his friends don’t seem to think he’s as odd as he does. Does the text provide us with any clues about why he is so ashamed of his compulsions? When did he start to realize he was different? How did he handle that discovery? Explain your answers.

7. Discuss Sara’s self-talk. How does her view of herself and her brain contrast with the talk from her parents, Dr. Ring, Ms. Hugger, and others?

8. Both Sara and Daniel have an offbeat sense of humor, and Daniel’s helps him relate to some of the other kids. Do you think that being able to make light of things can help when living with mental illnesses? How are Sara’s and Daniel’s jokes different from others’ making fun of them? Why doesn’t it bother Daniel when Max calls him Space Cadet?

9. Talk about Sara’s and Daniel’s best friends. Daniel says that Max “didn’t ditch me when he got cool in the fifth grade and I didn’t.” What does that statement tell you about Max’s personality or the quality of their friendship? How does Max’s role as football star help protect Daniel and make him feel included on the team? Why do you think Erin instantly deems Sara her best friend? What influence does Erin’s friendship have on Sara?

10. Because she is taught in a separate room at school, Sara is more isolated from other students than Daniel. How does this impact her school experience or shape her goals for the year? Name other ways that the author depicts Sara’s alienation.

11. At one point, Sara says, “I was the worst bully of them all.” Daniel refers to “being bullied by [his] own mind.” What does their use of terminology tell you about how they view their illnesses? Do you think any of the tactics that kids use against bullies could help Daniel or Sara battle their own minds? Explain your answers.

12. Discuss Sara’s games and the terms that she’s created for them. Do you think having terms for the games is helpful for Sara’s mental health? Do you think the story that Daniel writes serves a similar function for him? What other coping mechanisms do you see in these stories? How do you handle stressors in your life? Explain your answers.

13. It’s clear in Sara and the Search for Normal that she feels closer to her dad than to her mom, and some possible reasons for this are introduced in OCDaniel. How does learning about what happened to Sara’s father make you feel? How does that relationship compare to Daniel’s relationship with his dad?

14. Unlike only-child Sara, Daniel has two siblings. Talk about how differently his brother, Steve, and sister, Emma, perceive him. What are their relationships like? Do you think they understand him? Do you think they wish that things were different? Explain your answer using examples from the book.

15. In both books, Sara and Daniel see each other having humiliating or difficult moments. Both realize that, as Daniel puts it, “watching someone else break [makes] me feel a lot less broken.” What do you think he means by that statement? Why might that be comforting? Explain your answers.

16. How are Erin’s tenets for Star Children similar to Sara’s rules for being normal? How are they different? Do you think one list is better for Sara’s mental health than the other? What is your definition of “normal”? Do you think it can change depending on the person? Explain your answers.

17. Daniel talks to many people at school, both in class and during football games. Sara says that she only speaks to four people. Throughout Sara’s story, we see her increase the number of people whom she’s willing to speak to. What happens that allows her to feel she can open up to new people? Are all the people whom she chooses to interact with supportive of her? Are all the people whom Daniel befriends supportive of him? What characteristics do you look for in a friend? Explain your answers.

18. What would you identify as a turning point in Sara’s or Daniel’s stories? How does Sara realize that “normal” isn’t what she’s searching for? What do you think she was searching for? What role does Sara play in helping Daniel accept that, as he says, “‘I wasn’t normal. I never had been.’”?

19. Daniel says, “‘We were only crazy when we thought we were alone.’” What does he mean by that? Connection is a major theme in both books. How does finding each other help Sara and Daniel understand and accept their mental illnesses?

Extension Activities across Books

1. There are many books, movies, and television shows portraying mental health. Select another show, movie, or book that you’ve connected with, and compare it to Sara and the Search for Normal or OCDaniel. Compare and contrast the ways they portray mental health.

2. After reading both Sara and the Search for Normal and OCDaniel, discuss another character in the books who you think should have their own story. Who is it? When or where would it be set? What would you like to know about them? Explain your answers using scenes from the books.

3. The author uses the designation Star Child to represent the differences and uniqueness of kids living with mental illness. Research and write a report on Star Children, and discuss your findings with the class. Which information most surprised you? What left the biggest impression on you? What do you think is most important for others to know?

Extension Activities for Sara and the Search for Normal

1. There are notes from Sara throughout the book. At first, these notes appear after each chapter, and then sporadically throughout. Select one of the chapters that does not have a note following it. Write a note in the same manner and tone used in other places. Consider why Sara feels the need to explain details in these notes.

2. The story begins with a very specific personal narrative of Sara in the dressing room. This narrative gives us insight into Sara’s character and shows us a very detailed account of an everyday activity in Sara’s life. Reflect on your everyday activities: going to lunch, attending practice, shopping with a parent, cleaning your bedroom, etc. Select one activity and write about it on a specific day, with specific details in mind. What makes this everyday activity different on this specific day? Why was it memorable? How were you feeling? Did it change the way you might experience the activity next time?

3. Think about how Sara’s list of rules for being normal affects her. What do you think about the rules on her list? If you could change the list to read “Rules for Being Happy,” what ten things would you put on your own list? Write them down. Then discuss with a classmate and see if the two of you wrote similar or different items for your rules. How do you think having a list of “Rules for Being Happy” might have affected Sara’s life?

Extension Activities for OCDaniel

1. Different people in Daniel’s life view him from their own perspectives, including Max, Emma, Steve, Raya, and his dad. Choose three of these people, and write a description of Daniel from each of their perspectives. Then write a description of how you view Daniel. Finally, write a description of how Daniel might view himself. Discuss as a class the differences in perspectives, and their impacts on Daniel. How can you work to better listen and understand each other?

2. After Daniel scores a touchdown and wins the football game, he says, “It [is] the best day of my life.” Think about the best day of your life, and write a story about it.

Lexile level, OCDaniel: Lexile ® 560L

Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

The Lexile reading level has been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®.

About The Author

Photo courtesy of the author

Wesley King is the author of over a dozen novels for young readers. His debut, OCDaniel, is an Edgar Award winner, a Canada Silver Birch Award winner, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and received a starred review from Booklist. The companion novel, Sara and the Search for Normal, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was the recipient of the Violet Downey Book Award and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. King has also written The Incredible Space Raiders from Space!A World BelowButt Sandwich & TreeBenny on the Case, and Kobe Bryant’s New York Times bestselling Wizenard series. He lives in Newfoundland.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (May 4, 2021)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534421141
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 460L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title

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