Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pages: Hardcover, 211
Publisher: Anthem (Simon and Schuster)
Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation—and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.
It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in "like" with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.
Janie is one of those characters everyone can relate to. Not necessarily because we have walked into school with goat poop on our shoe and became known as “skunk girl,” but because we have all had a time when we are struggling to fit in. We don’t know who we are (because high school completely wrecks us all) and this novel completely captures those feelings through Janie. I read this one in a day because it was such an easy read and so captivating. The writing flows and the characters are so wonderfully written that you will find yourself loving them all… even the secondary characters whom we sometimes forget about! Though I loved Janie, it is the secondary characters and their stories which have stuck with me and given me a new voice within my writing (thanks Pritchard’s and Mrs. Brown!).
So many of today’s novels for teens focus on the relationships they have with their peers but this novel takes it to a new level. It is a coming of age story which I completely love and appreciate on so many levels. The fact that Janie and the other characters are written to showcase how life isn’t always easy but that we learn so much through those rough spots when we don’t even realize it. This will definitely be one that my students read again and again!
Frances doesn’t live too far from me but you can visit her HERE!