Ten Miles Past Normal
by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Atheneum, 2011. ISBN 978-1-416-99585-2.
Reviewed by Judy Miller
Posted on 05/13/2011


Ten Miles Past Normal is an apt title for the story of Janie Gorman, who has a lot to say and often does so in language that belies her fourteen years. The reader first meets Janie several months into her freshman year of high school. Janie used to think living on her family's small farm was pretty cool, but then she began high school, and her opinion quickly changed.

Janie is a normal fourteen year-old who struggles with how she fits into life, feeling not too hot about her family, or the "modern-hippy-let's-live-on-a-goat-farm" where she lives, working on her friendship with her Best Friend Forever (BFF) Sarah, adjusting to boys and to high school in general. Being called "farm girl" and teased when she has goat poop on her shoes causes her to feel miserable. Janie is in the process of holding onto her self-esteem, a normal cog in the wheel of adolescence.

In addition to being gifted with a smackingly sharp vocabulary and dry wit, Janie has a wise perspective. Mature for a fourteen year-old, she tends to look at a lot of what she experiences from more than one side. Written in first person, Ten Miles Past Normal pulls the reader in, taking her on Janie's journey of discovery—about how there is more than one layer to a person and how what she perceives isn't necessarily how others see events, situations, and life. Janie shares the way she misses her best friend, clique of girlfriends, and living in her old neighborhood—what used to be her "normal." But, as we all know, life is fluid and things evolve. Janie finds a new, pretty cool "normal."

Ten Miles Past Normal was a lot chewier than I expected. I really enjoyed it, and as I reflected on my teen years, Janie's issues and concerns resonated with me. Ten Miles Past Normal would be a great book for mothers and daughters to read in a mother-daughter book club. I've given it to my girls to read, and after they're finished, we'll talk about Janie.

Frances O'Roark Dowell is the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Dovey Coe, which won the Edgar Award, Where I'd Like to Be, the bestselling The Secret Language of Girls, and its sequel The Kind of Friends We Used to Be, Chicken Boy, Shooting the Moon, which was awarded the Christopher Medal, the Phineas L. MacGuire series, and most recently Falling In. She lives with her husband and two sons in Durham, North Carolina. Visit her website.

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