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.
Frances O’Roark Dowell’s fierce humor and keen eye make her YA debut literary and wise. In the spirit of John Green and E. Lockhart, Dowell’s relatable, quirky characters and clever, fluid writing prove that growing up gets complicated…and normal is WAY overrated.
Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Middle School Atheneum 211 pp.
3/11 978-1-4169-9585-2 $16.99 g
When Janie Gorman was a little girl, she wanted to live on a goat farm. She sold her dream so well that her parents actually moved to the country (Manneville, North Carolina) and started a farm. Now, though, she is a ninth grader who knows that showing up with goat excrement on her shoe is not going to get her into the popular clique. Janie narrates her first year in high school with her sure, smart, sarcastic voice—probably the same persuasive voice she used on her parents. She lives far from her longtime best friend Sarah, with only her bicycle for transportation. High school becomes a little more bearable when two things happen: cute boy Jeremy Fitch and his jam band allow Janie into their group, and a school history project leads Janie and Sarah to aging civil rights activists. Dowell gets all the details of ninth grade right: the changing relationships with friends; the allure and disappointment of the forbidden boy; embarrassing parents; and how having a passion changes everything. The secondary characters are kids you would like to hang out with, especially Monster, the oversized, loving friend who is just too old to be Janie’s boyfriend, and Sarah’s cool, nonconformist sister Emma. Middle schoolers with an eye to the future will love imagining themselves into Janie’s world.
--The Horn Book, March/April 2011