Book Reviews

Book Review – Ten Miles Past Normal

by Becky on May 9, 2012

in Books

Eleven O’Clock Mom Talks About Young Adult Novels

Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Books for Young Adults - Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Going back to high school with Janie Gorman, the utterly delightful narrator of Frances O’Roark Dowell’s YA novel Ten Miles Past Normal (Atheneum, 2011), made me remember how bewildering being a freshman can be. Like most earnest underclasswomen, I wanted not to stand out in a way that would call the wrong kind of attention to me. I remember the time one of my friends looked down her nose at the Levis 501’s I had on. “You wear those everyday!” she observed, wrinkling her nose as if she’d smelled something unpleasant. Oh, the mortification! And, had I gotten on the bus one day and realized, as Janie did, that the pungent smell of manure perfuming the bus emanated from my shoes, I don’t know that I would have recovered.

So I could relate only too well to Janie, who wants a regular life that does not include overworn 501’s, let’s say, or, more particularly, her family’s farm and the animals and smells and stigma that go with it. “Milking goats and pushing a chickenmobile around the yard every morning, dumping eggshells and coffee grounds into the composter every night after the dishes were done. Knowing way too much about manure and fertilizers and the organic way to grow bok choy. What kind of normal teenage girl lived this way?” she wonders. Why can’t she just be normal?!

But her manic quest for a normal life begins to take a happily ironic turn—toward a very cool musician named Monster. And toward her town’s almost-forgotten past, with its resonant, true stories of the civil rights efforts of local heroes. And toward the home that begins to feel much more right than wrong in spite of the fact that a genuine hootenanny is about to take place there, right on the eve of her birthday. With a character arc that feels totally authentic and a prose style that had me laughing out loud when I wasn’t shaking my head in admiration, Ten Miles Past Normal is the kind of YA novel I wish I’d had when I was Janie’s age and which I plan to put right into the hands of my discerning teenage girls/ravenous readers. One of the nicest compliments I could give Dowell would be to tell her that I would have loved to be friends with Janie.


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