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Ten Miles Past Normal

Review

Ten Miles Past Normal

In middle-grade novels like THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS and DOVEY COE, Frances O'Roark Dowell has proven that she can capture the voice and relationships of girls authentically and persuasively. Now, in TEN MILES PAST NORMAL, her first book for young adults, she shows that she can translate that authenticity, humor and honesty into a story that will appeal to teen readers as well.

Fourteen-year-old Janie has regrets. Namely, she regrets that she ever opened her mouth back when she was nine and suggested that living on a farm would be the greatest thing ever. Wouldn't you know that her parents actually listened to her and moved the whole family from their suburban subdivision to a small farm miles from anywhere. When Janie was nine, that was pretty darn cool. Now that she's entering high school, though, she's mortified when her mom writes embarrassing anecdotes on her earnest "back to the land" blog or when she herself accidentally steps in goat poop right before getting on the school bus in the morning. How will people ever see (or smell) beyond the obvious? "Just once this year," Janie reflects, "I want someone to look at me and think, Huh, she seems kind of neat instead of Huh, I wonder why she smells like manure."

Fortunately, Janie has friends who love her, like the ambitious, politically-minded Sarah. But as she begins exploring some new options during high school, she starts to reevaluate her relationship with Sarah, too. Should Janie redefine herself? Should she renounce her hippie parents and beloved goats in order to have the kind of "typical" high school experience she's always imagined? Or is it possible that being "normal" might be overrated after all?

Janie's story is fast-paced, helped along by a first-person present narrative voice that grants immediacy to her rapidly shifting emotions. Her conflicted feelings toward her own situation are credible and convincing, as is her loving relationship with her family, her shifting friendship with Sarah, and both girls' idolatry of Sarah's "wild" older sister, Emma. O'Roark Dowell adds richness and depth to this contemporary story by incorporating a taste of civil rights history, a perspective that ultimately shapes Janie's worldview.

There's a romance plot, of course, that manages to be simultaneously hilarious, heartfelt and ultimately surprising. Suffice it to say that it involves jam bands, gas money, a pair of "Rednecks for Peace" t-shirts, and a lovably huge guy whose legal name is Monster. Everything about the deliberately quirky TEN MILES PAST NORMAL feels just a shade off-kilter, but just like Janie herself, readers will probably discover that there's not much wrong with quirky after all.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 22, 2011

Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O'Roark Dowell

  • Publication Date: May 22, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1416995862
  • ISBN-13: 9781416995869