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Friday, April 22, 2011

ten miles past normal, written by frances o'roark dowell. Atheneum, Simon & Schuster. 2011. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"I mean, imagine it. Your mother is inviting the whole community to your backyard to eat hot dogs and sing folk songs. Bring your beat-up guitars, your whining fiddles, your world-weary mandolins, your honkin' harmonicas! Bring your overalls, your bandanna-wearing dogs, your hayseeds, your green-life Porta-Potties! Bring your homemade bread  and lentil stew and wheat germ brownies!"

Is that like every teenage nightmare? If you are trying to be 'normal' and Janie definitely is, the last thing you want is to draw attention to yourself through your  mother's blog about farm living and an open invitation to a hootenanny.

A fourth-grade field trip to the farm and her enthusiasm for its benefits gave Janie's parents the needed impetus to rethink their dream of farm living. For five years and up even up until mere months ago, it had worked for the family. Now that Janie is in high school, things are drastically altered for her. It makes her a target for snide remarks, and takes a concerted effort on her part to live under the radar of her high school classmates.

As anyone who has tried for it knows, 'normal' is elusive. And really, why be normal? There are so many more interesting choices to make. It is what Janie discovers, as she just begins to live her life as it happens. And she makes an interesting discovery along the way...people like her!

The characters resonate with voice and personality. Even Loretta Lynn, Janie's favorite goat, offers support.
The family is strong and understanding, while pursuing their own idea of happiness as Janie rebels:

"I sigh. "Do I have a choice?"And much to my surprise, it's my dad who says, "No, you don't."
"Mike?" My mom looks at my dad, who's standing in the kitchen doorway. We all do. My dad is a champion of staying out of things, which includes keeping his opinions on mother-daughter conflicts to himself. "I think it's time Janie rejoined the family," my dad says. "I'm tired of her acting like we're not good enough for her anymore." I feel like I've been slapped. "I don't think I'm too good for you," I stammer out after a minute. "I just - I -""

If you ever had or lived with (or as) a fourteen year old, you have had that conversation or some facsimile of it. Frances O'Roark Dowell might have been living in my house when I was that age, or more likely when my kids were that age...or she's close enough to their age to still remember such conversations vividly. The scenes are poignant, humorous, embarrassing, and even uplifting. She makes 'normal' seem impossible and offers a reminder that we are 'all' some miles past it. Her characters are to love and to remember fondly...Sarah, Emma, Monster, Septima Brown, Hazel and Harlan Pritchard, sister Avery and the 'rents.

In one review I read of this special book, the reviewer said, "Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment." I wholeheartedly agree!

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