Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Title:  Ten Miles Past Normal
Author:  Frances O'Roark Dowell
Publisher:  Atheneum Books 
Genre: contemporary YA
Hardcover: 224 pages
My copy:  Received from the publisher for honest review.
Summary from 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
  • Overall rating: 9/10 flowers
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon
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Frances O'Roark Dowell's Ten Miles Past Normal is a funny and insightful novel overflowing with charmingly quirky characters.  When Janie was nine years old her class took a field trip to an organic farm.  She loved it so much that she suggested to her parents that their whole family would be happier living on a farm, raising goats, and baking fresh bread.  Janie had no idea that the concept would appeal to her parents so much, and she could never have predicted that five years later that perfect-sounding farm life would leave her feeling completely ostracized during her freshman year of high school.  Part of her is desperate to fit in and feel like a normal girl, but perhaps life truly is better at ten miles past normal ...

What I Liked:
-     This book had me laughing aloud from start to finish.  Janie is a very funny narrator with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a wry wit.
-     I loved that civil rights played such an important role in this novel.  The teens admire and are inspired by courageous individuals who worked toward equality and justice when that was an unpopular and dangerous choice.
-     This is a book in which the teenage girls are more excited about changing the world than chasing after the hottest boy in school.  Of course, there is a bit of boy-chasing too, but that plays out in a hilariously satisfying way.
-     I thoroughly enjoyed the mommy-blogger angle of the story. Since moving to the country, Janie's mother has taken up blogging to document her family's farm-life adventures.  In fact, she has become a bit of a local celebrity because of her blog, and I liked hearing about that whole experience from Janie's perspective.
-     I enjoyed the quirky collection of characters, from Monster to Emma to Mr. Pritchard.  We should all be lucky enough to encounter memorably awesome people like that in our lives.  There are also characters like Jeremy Fitch, who bear a striking resemblance to people most of us probably knew (or still know) in high school.  I was thrilled that Janie has the good sense to recognize the reality that isn't always obvious when you are distracted by a handsome face and flirtatious banter.
-     Janie has loving parents and they play a vital role in the story, so that sets Ten Miles Past Normal apart from the bulk of YA novels in which parents are absent/evil/negligent.
-     I loved seeing Janie mature as she realizes that being normal is overrated and starts embracing life at ten miles past normal.
What I Wished:
-     I wanted this book to be longer.  Honestly, the author chose the perfect time and place for the story to end.  I just enjoyed the characters so much that I wanted the story to go on for another hundred pages or so.

Ten Miles Past Normal is a sweet coming-of-age tale with a funny, intelligent narrator. Fans of Deb Caletti's Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, John Green's An Abundance of Katherines, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl or Adriana Trigani's Viola in Reel Life will want to pick up Ten Miles Past Normal.  It is also a very clean read, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to fans of middle-grade novels like Lisa Schroeder's It's Raining Cupcakes.  I look forward to reading more of Frances O'Roark Dowell's books.  If you would like to learn more about Ten Miles Past Normal or Frances O'Roark Dowell's other books, please visit her website or Simon & Schuster page.

Read the first chapter of Ten Miles Past Normal here!


Bookworm1858 said...

This book could definitely have been longer. I especially would have liked more Monster!

Violet said...

Bookworm1858 - I totally agree! I loved Monster! Maybe the author will write a spinoff novel that follows Monster, or a sequel set about three years in the future when Janie IS ready for a boyfriend with his own apartment. ;)

Vampires and Tofu said...

This one sounds really good...a female teenage character who cares about something besides boys?? YES!!

Jess said...

I've only read one other book by this author (a middle grade novel), but I LOVED it. I'll definitely put this on my list! Thanks :)

Violet said...

Vampires and Tofu - Right?! I liked that Janie and her best friend both have passions and goals that are entirely unrelated to crushing on cute boys. And I loved the moment that Janie realizes the handsome boy she and her best friend have been stalking (before the start of the book) is not even remotely worth their time. This is a YA novel that doesn't revolve around a girl swooning over a boy or adjusting her entire personality to suit him. The boy (and men) Janie does respect and admire are kind, generous, courageous, unashamed of who they are, and drawn to strong females. She may not be ready to date anyone by the end of the book (which takes a certain kind of bravery and astuteness in itself) but when she is ready, I have no doubt she'll know exactly what she wants and needs in a partner. :)

Jess - Thanks so much for your comment. I am really excited to hear that you loved one of Frances O'Roark Dowell's middle-grade novels! This is the first of her books I've read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it so I am looking forward to reading some of her middle-grade books. :)

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