Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Pub. Date: March 22nd, 2011
Age Level: Upper MG
Source: For review from publisher.
Synopsis via Goodreads
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 is a short and sweet read that kept me entertained throughout its duration, though I'm not entirely sure it will stick out to me as memorable later on down the road.
Though I never quite loved Janie, I still found her to be a well crafted heroine. She has a great sense of humor and her frustrations with fitting in and being different were understandable and made her easy for me to relate to. I enjoyed watching her grow and seeing her perspective on her life shift and morph into something better. My only issue with Janie was that at times she sounded older than fourteen, and at other times, much younger. I would have liked to have seen a more happy medium than what I got. Sarah, Janie's best friend, is very intelligent and goal oriented, a humanitarian in the making. There were times when she got on my nerves with how she could be with Janie and she often felt a bit unrealistic but she made for a decent supporting character overall. Then there was Monster, whom I kinda sort of loved. He's this tall, huge, guitar player living on his own after breaking away from his parents. But he's not the stereotypical bad boy you'd expect. He's sweet and respectful and just so different. I really would have liked to have seen more of his character. Emma, Sarah's sister, is another character I wanted to get to know better. As a matter of fact, I couldn't help thinking how I'd love to read a book about her. Mr. Pritchard and Mrs. Brown were also some great additions to the cast. Honestly, had more of these supporting characters been allowed even more of a chance to shine, I think it could have really made this book special.
Though far from a heavy or serious read, Ten Miles Past Normal still manages to work in some meaningful topics without weighing the book down. You have the trials of a teenage girl trying to fit in, or in Janie's case, blend in. The story also represents staying true to yourself and finding out who that true self is in the first place. I think it's important that kids know that it's okay to not be what traditional society tends to consider 'normal'. Sometimes being different is a good thing. Something I wasn't expecting was the incorporation of the civil rights movement brought into the plot by Mr. Pritchard and Mrs. Brown. I thought this provided Ten Miles Past Normal with a little extra oompf. In general, the plot is very humorous and I think the fact that it was Janie's younger self who wanted to move to a goat farm in the first place was a nice little twist. For some strange reason though, I felt I just wasn't able to fully immerse myself in this story.
Dowell's writing style is simple and to the point with an appealing wit and charm about it. However there were times, especially in the first part, where there were flashbacks and I sometimes found myself feeling slightly lost, wondering which tense I was currently in. The main problem for me was how the flashbacks flowed into the present tense with almost no warning which, ironically enough, actually disrupted the flow of the writing itself. As the story progressed, the writing improved and I moved more quickly through the pages. Also, Dowell paced the story quite well, fitting everything into the brief length comfortably.
What I liked about the ending of Ten Miles Past Normal was how it was almost like a beginning in that it showed how Janie had grown throughout her journey of self-discovery and it left me knowing she had great things to come with her newly found perspective on things. I thought this was a lovely way to draw things to a close.
While I've seen Ten Miles Past Normal often classified as YA, and despite Janie being almost fifteen, I would definitely be more prone to group this book in with the Upper MG age range. With it's innocence and taste of a first crush, I feel this is a coming-of-age story excellently suited for pre-teens, though a story us older folks can still appreciate. If you're looking for a light, fun contemporary read then I'd say give this book a try.
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