Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
All Janie wants is to be normal, but she can’t shake her stinky reputation that comes from her family’s goat farm. The lump of something strange in her hair one day didn’t help and neither did the clump of goat poo on her shoe that stunk up the bus. To make it worse, her group of friends from middle school don’t have the same lunch as she does, so she has taken to wolfing down her lunch at her locker and then spending the lunch period in the library. She keeps hoping that someone normal will enter the library and befriend her, but there are only weird kids around. No friend material, and no boyfriend material either. The real trouble is that Janie herself is not normal: she makes her own clothes, is sassy, smart and vibrant. Now the question is when she’s going to figure that out.
Dowell’s writing is funny, intelligent and spot on. She writes dialogue that is snappy and a pleasure to read. Janie’s journey from hoping for normal to embracing her own uniqueness is written with great pacing, lots of truth, and a joyousness that is infectious. There are many places in the book that clichés could have been used, but Dowell never turns to them. Instead, she uses those moments to make the book ever more special.
A large part of the success of the novel is the character of Janie. She has a voice that is clear and consistent, filled with humor. The novel really traces her growth as a teen, finding her own way that is certainly not normal. Yet despite being a unique path, it is clear that the person she grows into is the one she was meant to be from the beginning.
A book that celebrates being exactly who you really are, even if you aren’t sure who that is yet, this is a treat of a read. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
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