64 pages 2 hours read

M. T. Edvardsson

A Nearly Normal Family

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


M. T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family, first published in 2018, is a legal and psychological thriller that delves into the psychological and legal intricacies of a family in crisis. As a Swedish author and teacher, Edvardsson brings his insight into family dynamics and moral challenges to the forefront of this narrative. Set in contemporary Sweden, the novel explores themes such as justice, family loyalty, and the complexities of truth.

This study guide refers to the 2019 paperback edition by Celadon Books that is translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles.

Content Warning: The source text includes graphic depictions of sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse, and violence.

Plot Summary

Stella Sandell, the teenage daughter of pastor Adam and lawyer Ulrika, stands accused of the murder of Christopher Olsen, a wealthy businessman. Adam narrates the first part of the novel, describing the family’s seemingly peaceful and normal life. Stella’s arrest abruptly shatters that tranquility and tests Adam’s faith and dedication to truth. He recounts the distressing day of Stella’s arrest, a moment that triggers the unraveling of both his world and his perception of his family. Adam delves into Stella’s past, particularly a traumatic incident at the age of 15 involving Robin, a camp counselor, which he believes led her down a rebellious path. He perceives this as a failure in his parenting, contrasting Stella’s actions with those of her friend Amina, whom he views more favorably. As he attempts to uncover the truth himself, Adam inadvertently causes more complications, revealing the intricate layers of family dynamics and setting the groundwork for the legal and emotional turmoil that follows.

In the second part, the focus shifts to Stella, who feels misunderstood and carries trauma from being sexually assaulted at 15. From the confines of jail, Stella recounts her tumultuous teenage years, her strained relationship with her parents, and the series of events that led to her arrest. Her relationship with Christopher started as a summer fling. Stella, charmed by Christopher and ignoring warnings from his ex-girlfriend, found herself falling for his manipulative tactics and became deeply entangled in a controlling relationship.

Stella’s detailed account of the night leading up to Christopher’s murder adds depth to her character and brings complexity to the case. Her perspective sheds light on not only her feelings of being misunderstood by her family but also the lingering trauma from her assault at 15. The interplay between her past experiences, her relationship with Christopher, and Amina’s entanglement in his manipulative behavior become pivotal in understanding the events of that fateful night. Stella’s recollections from jail paint a vivid picture of the circumstances that culminated in the tragic incident, providing crucial insights into the motives and emotions that governed her actions.

The narrative then transitions to Ulrika, Stella’s mother. As a defense attorney, Ulrika is torn between her professional ethics and her maternal instinct to protect Stella. In navigating the legal defense for Stella, she goes so far as to destroy crucial evidence to safeguard her daughter and Amina. Amina comes to her after the murder, and together they craft a plan that will exonerate both of them. The plan Ulrika creates is kept secret, even from her husband, Adam.

The courtroom drama intensifies as Adam fabricates an alibi for Stella and Amina’s testimony sheds light on what happened that night. She testifies that Christopher sexually assaulted her on the night of his murder, placing her at the scene of the crime. It is therefore impossible for the court to definitively prove who the true perpetrator is, leading to Stella’s acquittal, a result of Ulrika’s calculated strategy.

The novel’s resolution sees the Sandell family rekindling their connection in the wake of Stella’s trial victory. The Epilogue reveals Stella’s true involvement in Christopher’s murder. Stella’s motivation for the crime is disclosed: She sought to avenge her friend but also protect Amina, who had been assaulted by Christopher.