Reviews of Not a Blueprint, It’s the Shoe Prints that Matter: A Journey Through Toxic Relationships

4 out of 4 stars. The well known English cliché that experience is the best teacher is well exemplified in the book: Not a Blueprint: It’s the Shoe Prints That Matter by Nina Norstrom. It’s by far the most well-written memoir I have ever read from the point of view of the potential of a book’s capacity to impact positively on its readers. This is because it’s hard to read this work and not feel moved by its content.

The author, Nina Norstrom, grew up in a suburb of the city of Chicago, Illinois, in a close-knit and conservative Christian family composed of five other siblings. Though the family considered itself Christian, Nina’s father, Johnny Senior, was abusive towards his wife – a conscientious and old-fashioned woman – who made sure every member of her family prepared to go to worship the Lord every Sunday. Soon, Johnny Senior’s philandering ways would see the couple part ways. With the children given a choice to pick between either parent. As the toxic environment in her home made a deep imprint on her heart, she would escape reality by continuously repeating to herself the words: “I’m invisible. I’m invisible.” Or simply, just letting her mind wander thinking about the many career opportunities open out to her in the immediate future. And when not busying herself around the house, she’ll be at her close friend’s, Netti’s, place. Then about to start her senior year, and while at Netti’s place, she met Netti’s brother, Craig, who was in the Navy. Taken aback by his charm at first sight, and with lots of naivety to boot, she accepted a date with him. This was to be the beginning of a remarkable change in Nina’s life, and an effusion of toxicity that will herald her to write this book. But what exactly instigated this course in her life that it became so imperative for her to write a book as a form of therapeutic healing? And how is the term “toxicity” tied down with all that was happening in the author’s life? And, lastly, was toxicity manifest in her life in one or a variety of ways?

The aforementioned, are some of the fundamental questions that the book addresses. Reading her book heightened my perspective on the importance of not only giving timely advice but also offering a supportive structure to those encompassing physical, emotional, spiritual and mental turmoil. Focusing on the book title, it reflects so much on the theme of the book. It brings out the aspect of individuality towards approaching the theme and problem of toxicity in relationships. It recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-it-all kind of solution to the problem. But rather, using an analogy of someone lost in the forest, it’s imperative for the searcher to trace the lost person’s shoe prints (trail) as they seek to find or help them. At times, the shoe prints may point to the searcher meaning that they are part of the problem or the cause of the problem. Anyhow, the searcher needs to have an open mind for possibilities whilst playing an active role in empathizing. Empathy is important because some of the issues at play are overwhelming for one person to handle, such as cancer, divorce, unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence and sexual promiscuity. Other themes discussed in the book are issues to do with faith, especially in a crisis, and family bonds.

To elaborate further on the cliché I had earlier mentioned, it is said that we keep learning from others’ experience so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. The author has narrated her memoirs in a candid way. It was emotional enough for me as I went through her experiences. I think an example will suffice at this time. Mandy was Nina’s close friend (BFF) and had been separated from her husband. She was on public assistance and had two beautiful daughters. Being so close, the ladies shared a lot of their experiences about the men in their lives. Like that day when Nina’s baby daddy, Craig, went out without her and how wacko she became, burning his clothes at the whim of the moment. What’s sad about the ladies’ relationship is that it ended tragically after Mandy was found murdered, a case of domestic violence by an estranged husband who didn’t care that any of his under-age daughters would witnesses the murder. Sadly, this is the tone that runs throughout the book – one gleeful and carefree moment interspersed with a melancholic one. I was able to identify with Nina’s book as it reflected a lot of the goings-on in my circle. I got to experience her frailty as a human. I felt her as she reached out and got disappointed by the men in her life. I felt for the beautiful child who would sit by the window looking out because it was her birthday and her father had promised her some gifts. She sat by the window hour after hour waiting for him, only for her to turn away crying because her father didn’t show up! Lastly, in the course of my reading, I was heartbroken reading about such children who would have to suffer emotional and traumatic scars because of disease and other reasons they’ll never comprehend.

The novel is a great resource book on relationships. For starters, each chapter is well labeled and reads like a chronology of a stage in the life of a relationship. From birth to childhood, growing to teenage years, teenage years giving way to young adulthood, and eventually, into mature adulthood. The author has expertly narrated the lives of several characters, including her own, who are related by blood, friendship, work or are just plain neighbors. After the end of each chapter, the author has included summarised notes on insights to be gained from each chapter. She has also included several appendixes containing addresses and contacts of organizations which offer various support structures, like when one is maneuvering through emotional obstacles or dealing with ailments, such as cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder. I also enjoyed how the author interspersed or likened the events that were happening to her by relating them to her favorite movie or actress. For example, in the incident mentioned above where Nina burned Craig’s clothes, in a moment, she felt like she was living a “Betty Broderick moment – just like when she set her man’s clothes on fire. Or was it the Angela Bassett scene in Waiting to Exhale? Paying back her man was definitely a moment of rage.”

Having read the book, I found myself resolving to be a better person to the people close to me. The book’s narration has a way of reminding you as to how life is precious. I liked Nina’s endearing use of the word “angel” to describe people that have been and continue to be impactful in her life. Consequently, I too hope and long to have such an effect on those who know or love me. For the author, it has been the journey of her life – so far – and an impressionable one at that, to me and others. She has written the book devoid of any grammar and typo errors (just saw one minor case of a missing comma). It’s a book that has the capacity and potential to change our human relationships for the better. It’s a book that I unreservedly recommend to everyone because we are first and foremost members of a family. Further and more specifically, I recommend it to anyone going through a rough period in life, like having a relationship with cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder (as a patient or knowing someone suffering from it). I rate the book at 4 out of 4 stars.

  • Quinto

5 stars. “Not a Blueprint: It’s the Shoe Prints that Matter A Journey Through Toxic Relationships achieves what few other books offer, surveying the elements of toxic relationships and people in life which define ‘toxic’ actions and tells how to handle them. That it does this with acknowledgment to the hand of God and a nod to the idea that “…that God gives us strong shoes to walk those paths.” Makes for a discussion particularly recommended for spiritual self-help readers.

The author knows her subject: toxic relationships at home, at work, and in life nearly destroyed her. She learned from these relationships: “My ultimate lesson in my journey has been that healthy relationships require honesty, compassion, strength, and courage. Given the right mechanisms, these traits make maneuvering through lifeless stormy.

Her life story unfolds in these pages, from a religious upbringing and the importance of God in her life to her job, family, and friendships. Christian guilt, shame, sin, emotional attachments and parenting are explored with insights into toxic communications, individuals, and – yes – attractions to and between toxic personalities.

Not a Blueprint thus serves a dual purpose, providing Nina Norstrom’s autobiography and charting her life’s course through toxicity and onto a more positive, supportive path. What’s the difference between a ‘blueprint’ that guides one and the ‘shoe print’ mentioned in the title? Quite simply, this is a focus on the lasting effects (“shoe prints”) which lessons learned from experience leaves on one’s psyche and life. The author is quite clear about the difference and God’s role in this: “…my belief is that God gives us strong shoes to walk those paths. If we are willing, we can readily learn to distinguish whether relationships are toxic or nontoxic.”

Followers of her footsteps should ideally be spiritually-minded readers who will appreciate the incorporation of God’s purposes into discussions of the characteristics that constitute toxic relationships and how to handle or avoid them. Readers with such a background will appreciate the consistent injections of faith into life experiences (a regular thread in the stories), and will appreciate the life lessons Norstrom shares along the way which serves to support that faith: “So, when a person comes into your life, don’t question their existence—just embrace their presence. Take it from the Holy Father: they are there for a reason, and we must embrace that moment.”

Each lesson provides enlightenment, making for an appealing combination of psychological and spiritual inspection recommended for self-help and Christian readers alike.”

  • D. Donovan
    Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review (May 2016 Issue)


5 stars. “There are some books you read for enjoyment or to pass the time but sometimes there are books that leave you feeling a bit differently from before you started it. These books move you and you feel grateful to the author for having written it and allowing you to look into their lives for some brief hours. These books leave you saying ‘wow’ and when you walk away from it, it still lingers in you.

Ms. Norstrom wrote such a book.

Each chapter is interspersed with self-help type wisdom bullet points making the book a sort of memoir-slash-self help book, which is quite different and interesting.

As a writer I am envious of Ms. Norstrom’s easy writing style but you so quickly get sucked into the narrative that you stop envying her writing and get swept up in her story.

Read this book.”

  • John Davis, Goodreads

5 stars. “when asked to review this book i must admit i was a little put off by the blurb and was not sure it would be the right fit for me but an author friend of mine had read it and told me it was a sad but great story and that the woman behind it had a rough life and so i jumped in (thank you John Davis )
such a heartbreaking story Nina seems to go through it all 🙁
a toxic father, toxic relationships, moving from pillar to post and a heartbreaking and truly sad journey for not only Nina but her daughter China, my heart was heavy reading this book and i would not wish any of it on a worst enemy, i won’t say too much as i feel i would give away a lot so i will say this, if you are considering reading this book jump in with both feet you won’t be disappointed

There is no book boyfriend to be had in this story, it is simply not one for that but one that is real so i leave out the would he be my book boyfriend”

“Last Friday I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting this amazing and inspiring Author. I am looking forward to the release date of her story, her life’s journey, the “Shoe Prints” of her life. Our past defines our future but it is 100% up to us to steer the direction we want to take. Sink or swim! Nina is one warrior that I am proud know!”

4/5 stars. “I honestly will not be doing any justice when I write the description for this book. But I will try my best to get real close.

This is the journey of the author through multiple toxic relationships and toxicity of life in general. She gives great insights on how her experience through this journey was and how to recognize, repair and avoid such traumatic experiences. This is not one of those self-help books which guide one through till then end and feed your brain with too much information. This is one of those books with heartfelt emotions and story of those loved ones who teach us things that cannot be taught. It is a wonderful effort by the author to write her thoughts and experiences and using this to guide others who might stumble upon such issues as well. Hat’s off Nina!

My take:

I initially started reading this book with a lot of other work and very hectic events happening in my life. But slowly the book started showing me the toxic part of life which I had never encountered as of yet {Yes, nineteen isn’t exactly all knowing age}. Then again prevention is better than cure. So I continued reading through and that lead me to knowing so much about how life is not as simple as it seems. I have super amazing parents and a brother who is a pest at times and the greatest gift to me during the the rest. I had always taken them for granted and only after reading this book did I understand my mistake.

Never ever take it for granted that you have an amazing family and good friends to help and support you. You couldn’t have asked for better people in your life!

The thing that finally made me throw away all my work and read the book was when the author is faced with the Cancer taking away the light of her life. That’s when I cried while reading. The author herself seems so calm and reassuring in her words, but me, as a reader I could feel the pain radiated from the pages. I love this book and this is one book that I according to me, should be read at least once in a lifetime!

There are many books out there, but none can compare to a mother who is guiding a child. This book gave me that feeling and I’m so thankful for the author for sending me this book! Really really amazing!”

5 stars. “Not A Blue Print is a sensitive novel. The author’s soul is in words, words that express the confidence she has in herself as she share touching and emotional triumphs. Not A Blue Print will open doors for individuals who need help completing their emotional journeys. A beautiful read.”

  • Essie Stewart (4.4.16)

5 stars. “This book was a great read it tells a story base on true life experiences, this book can easily be made into a movie that will help people realize that everyone has a journey they have to walk through in life and we are all connected. This book touched my heart, I can feel her pain you have to be a strong woman to have endured so much. I highly recommend this book.”

  • Yvonne Perkins, (4.14.16)

5 stars. “I laughed and I cried, as I read the pages of Not a Blue Print: It’s the Shoe Prints that Matter. Nina Norstrom, the author, penned this creative nonfiction as if it were a drama from a popular novel. Nina’s life story weaved engaging characters in and out; some loveable and some unlikable (but, that’s real life, isn’t it?) as if it were yesterday that the events unfolded in her life. Nina painted a vivid picture of her life’s toxic journey. In addition, the ‘Insight’ following each chapter provided life lessons that I, without a doubt, related to. By all means, you will want to pick-up this book, which I found difficult to put down some nights. You’ll be compelled to read this fast-paced page turner until you have read the last sentence!”

  • Vanessa Fortenberry, Author of “Mama, I Want to See God”

5 stars. “Nina Norstrom is an amazing storyteller. When I first cracked this book opened, I felt that it was going to be more of a ‘self -help’ book but immediately caught me off guard when it took on a more of a biographical role. I enjoyed how she explained where she came from, how she grew up and what kind of family she came from. Perhaps the best part of the book (believe me there were many), was the fact that she remained wholly truthful throughout the entire book, never steering away from the way things were… She admitted that she came from parents who had a toxic relationship, and even referred several times to inheriting her father’s toxic ways. Instead of painting this perfect picture of how life was, she strictly told the truth, whether that truth was good, bad or ugly which is a talent. When authors (and even people) are given the opportunity to reflect on their past, they tend to avoid mentioning the bad decisions and paths that they may have taken but not Nina.

She brought out the complete artistry of telling God honest truth. When she explained her early teen years, she cut no corners, and described her experiences in such a deep way that I could relate to her emotions. But I also felt as though I was living them right there with her. Some of the mistakes she made, where those that I have made myself. I appreciated her honesty and felt as though I was speaking to a good friend, instead of just reading a good book.

Regardless of the age gap between me and this woman, I felt that I could relate to her on so many levels when it came to the been there, done that which is something I cannot say in regards to anyone. It amazed me from the first few chapters how Nina became a good friend to me and I’ve never even met her.

As the story progressed, so did my love for her and her daughter China … their journey towards the end, literally sent chills through my body and left me in tears. This author has a beautiful artistry when it comes to putting truth into words. I have personally dealt with the Big C with family members, and although I have never lost a child of my own, I have lost several siblings due to gang violence, and other ailments, and have witnessed my parents having to say goodbye to the children that they have brought into this world. I have witnessed first-hand the insanity, the anger, and the frustration that a parent goes through after losing a child.

So reading this allowed me to truly take a moment and acknowledge and possibly understand even more what my parents had went through. It also helped me reflect for a moment just how much I hadn’t really dealt with all the losses I have encountered in my 24 years of living. Listening to her wounds opening and closing helped me heal some of mines as well. So reading this honesty from an individual who has went through something so similar and being so honest gave me an even stronger perspective as to how hard it is to go through such a thing for not just me but those around me. So much so, I found myself literally sobbing through the last few chapters.

I send my love, my condolences, and have to take a moment to say to Nina that I could NEVER applaud you enough for having the strength to write this story for people out there just like me. Again, I am so young, but have experienced almost everything that you have mentioned in this book. I feel that there would be a smaller generational gap, if our parents and our grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters literally just spoke to us the way you spoke to me through this book; truthfully. You are such a strong individual and I know that China, your mother, and the others are looking down at you right now smiling because you have made something that truly has touched me and I am sure will touch thousands of more hearts. I love this book! By far one of the realists I have ever encountered. God bless!!”

  • Sontia Mason for

5 stars. “What a journey! I have cried my eyes out. I can’t imagine overcoming some of the obstacles she faced. I’m afraid I could never be as strong as she is. I can only hope that I could forgive as she did. I am thankful for therapy and support groups that helped her get to where she’s at today. I am most thankful for God helping her even when it didn’t seem like it. This book is very touching. I’m glad she shared her
Journey with us through this book. We can all learn so much from this.”

  • Angela M. Dokos for

5 stars. “This book is full of intense and raw emotion. The author bares her soul to the point of you feeling her pain. In addition, it causes you to examine some of your own relationships and realize that they also are toxic.”

  • Southern Girl for

5 stars. “I know Nina personally and never would I have thought she went through so much. Nina is a light and a joy to be around and I know God has worked through her life tremendously. The book though is quite a story, it’s real, you want to know what happens next and it keeps you reading to the next chapter. I think this book is a story of Nina always trusting in God. She didn’t make perfect choices, but yet, who does? God has a plan for her life and Nina bravely walked/walks that path and boldly chose to share her story with us.
I am blown away and humbled by the story and the lady who wrote this.”

  • Amazon Customer

4 stars. “A riveting memoir; imagine the courage it took the author Nina Norstrom to put pen to paper and relive her painful turbulent past.
Her intuitive understanding from her life experiences allows her readers to gain first-hand knowledge of relationships as they travel through the perils of life.

I truly appreciate the resources and bibliographies she shares with her readers……it’s a starting place to help others if they find themselves traveling a journey through toxic relationships.”

  • Retired Librarian for

5 stars. “This is the second book that I have read by Author, Nina Norstrom. I felt as though I was watching a sitcom. After reading each chapter, I was left with the feeling of wanting to see what the next toxic adventure would be. This piece of material is a wonderful self-help aid. I can definitely see Ms. Nina’s material as a stage play.”

  • Malik Cain for

5 stars. “This book is a must-read! I keep it by my bed as a reference tool, right next to my Bible. Whenever I need a little help figuring out my own toxic relationship with others I read the highlighted areas which is therapeutic for me. The author not only took us down roads of her past relationships but also highlighted the lessons learned from those experiences. Once I started reading, I was not able to put it down. I had many emotions reading Not a Blueprint: It’s the shoe prints that matter, but the biggest takeaway was to listen to your children and how toxic diseases can even effect our families if we don’t pay attention. I applaud Nina Norstom for sharing her story with the world in an effort to help others who may be going through the same thing.”

  • Caroline Winfield, Author