June 02, 2011

Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Hardcover, 211 pages
Published: March 22, 2011 by Simon & Schuster
Contemporary YA
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.

To say that Ten Miles Past Normal wasn’t what I expected would be a vast understatement. I expected a light, fun read, which I suppose it was. But I found myself enjoying the novel far more than I had anticipated.

Janie was a fun protagonist. She was this little animal loving hippy girl, and I’m a sucker for that. She was quirky and just a breath of fresh air. However, adorable or not, she wasn’t my favorite part of the novel.
To me, the best parts were the secondary characters and plotlines. To throw this girl in the middle of a bunch of tattooed band members brought back some memories, and I could connect to her in these scenarios through my own experiences. It was refreshing. Another was the elderly people that Janie and her friends interviewed. I feel that too often elders are presented as racist, and we generally accept it and move on because they’re older. They were around when things were different, so it’s almost as if they get a free pass. One thing I loved about Ten Miles Past Normal was that it showed that there are elders who are the exact opposite of that. Some of them were actually against racism, even back then, and were active in their community in the fight against segregation. I loved that these were the kind of people Janie encountered.
One of the issues I had with the novel was Janie’s age. Throughout the beginning, with a reference to Saved by the Bell and a relatively mature girl, I wasn’t expecting to find out that she was only fourteen. I also wasn’t expecting this to play a role in the romantic aspect in the story, which brings me to my other issue with the novel: the ending.               

It was a happy ending, but it wasn’t what I had grown to expect throughout the novel. I felt as if it left numerous loose ends, and for a stand-alone novel, I was let down. It felt incomplete. However, despite the ending, Ten Miles Past Normal was a short, fun read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary young adult.

4/5 Stars

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear it turned out more than you expected. I love it when books do that! I might just read this. Thanks.


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