Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
All Janie wants is to be normal -- is that too much to ask? Well, yes, when you live on a goat farm. Yet, despite the odds, Janie is determined to have a "normal" high school experience, full of nice, preppy boys and mall-crawling girlfriends. However, when Janie picks up the bass to impress a guy and finds herself pulled deeper into the world of Jam Band, she starts to move father away from normal than ever -- which leads her straight to Monster. Monster is as un-normal as one can get, but Janie is inexplicably drawn to his devil-may-care attitude and comfort in his own skin. When Janie, Monster, and their friends get arrested during a school project, Janie starts to realize she's missed "normal" by a mile -- and maybe she's okay with that.
This new novel by Frances O'Roark Dowell makes me think of sunshine. Ten Miles Past Normal is a sweet and imaginative coming-of-age story that will give older readers nostalgic warm and fuzzy feelings. Janie commands center stage with her cute and quirky voice, and light-hearted yet cynical take on the tribulations of early teen life. She is an utterly adorable heroine -- I would love to have her for a little sister (or a best friend, if I was several years younger). An unusual brand of outsider, Janie's not the troubled delinquent one might expect, merely an unusual farm girl who wants desperately to fit in, but isn't angsty about it. Her narration is conversational and personal, and will draw in readers like a warm embrace.
However, Janie isn't the only vibrant character in this novel; she is surrounded by a whole cast of larger-than-life personalities. Monster Monroe (yes, his real name) is unlike anyone Janie's ever met. He's even more bizarre than Janie's goat farm existence, and he's fine with that. Though Monster is several years older than her, their bond leads them on a tender journey of discovery that will warm readers' hearts. Then there's Janie's best friend, Sarah. Sarah is described as a "girl genius and world-changer,"* and lives up to the epithet. When the girls team up for a school project, exploring the fascinating civil rights struggle in their town's past, Sarah's passionate drive pulls the young friends into a deeper historical journey that adds layers of insight to the otherwise light, bright and sparkling novel.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley of this novel from the publisher. This did not affect my review in any way.