Dowell, Frances O'Roark. Ten Miles Past Normal. Atheneum, 2011. 224p. $16.99. 978-1-4169-9585-2.
All fourteen-year-old Janie Gorman wants is a normal life so she can fit in at high school, but when your quirky family lives on a farm (or "farm-ette," as she calls it), sometimes goat poop on your shoes happens--as does being called "Skunk Girl." At first Janie hides in the library with the other losers, but soon her determination to have a better life pays off. First, she tries Jam Band, where a gentle giant named Monster teaches her the bass. Then, report research leads to some local but unsung heroes of the Civil Rights movement, opening Janie's eyes to the larger world. Soon, she finds room not just for the "big" feelings but also for all her family's, friends', and own quirks and comes to realize how overrated "normal" really is.
This delightful book is full of details about Janie's world and its idiosyncratic characters. Especially wonderful is that readers come to know the characters gradually, with their quirks--like Janie's clothes-making and talking to her goats--appearing one by one. Janie's high school fears and disappointments, such as wondering if she has outgrown her best friend, will resonate with most readers, as will her thoughtful realizations about the important things in life. The book's only drawbacks are occasional lapses in teenspeak (e.g., a boy saying, "I can't abide"), and Dowell pointing out Janie's "big feelings" rather than just trusting the reader to understand the import of those feelings. Nevertheless, this feel-good book should enjoy wide appeal.--Rebecca Moore.
The first-person present voice is perfect for this story, as it is the way teenagers really talk. There are also other ways kids can relate to this book, like Janie being an outcast in high school. Some components, however, do not feel realistic, like the lack of consequences for cutting school in one scene. This book will appeal t