Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Confession: I have a new book crush, and the subject of my new crush is Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell. This is one of those quintessential stories about growing up, embracing the high school experience and learning to rock what you’ve got. And Dowell delivers it all in perfect form:

Janie Gorman is an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experience (regretfully instigated by a younger, much more ehtusiastic Janie). This is making it hard for Janie to have a normal high school experience. She’s smart. She’s a little offbeat. She already has a funky vibe going — throw in a whiff of fresh goat poop and she just may be eating lunch alone in the library forever.

But if Janie is going to learn how to live large (and forget the haters), she’ll have to give up the quest for normal and make room in her life for things from the fringe — like jam band and righteous chocolate, an inspiring pair of octogenarians and a boy named Monster.

Acclaimed author Frances O’Roark Dowell’s first novel for teens is a quirky road map for life that’s full of offbeat heroes and delicious goat cheese. Maybe life’s little detours are not about missing out, but about finding a new way home.

What makes Ten Miles Past Normal so appealing is that it’s a universal story told in a unique way. We’ve all been the high school freshman, struggling to fit in and be “normal.” But as this book so poignantly points out, no one is “normal.” The book sets out to teach (without preaching) that the real key to living your life isn’t trying to fit someone else’s mold of what you should or shouldn’t be. But rather, it’s about owning your own personality. Be yourself; embrace it — and others will embrace you.

You’ve also got a winning combination when you combine this story with Dowell’s stand-out writing and her colorful cast of characters, all of whom are easy to love. And you WILL fall in love with them — from Janie, your teen narrator, to the kid named Monster (yes, really), to the fearless Mrs. Brown and the goat named Loretta Lynn. They are each unforgettable and wonderful in their own right.

Add to that prose that is fresh, fun and feels oh-so-real. She has phrases and metaphors and anecdotes aplenty that every reader will be able to relate to. Like this passage:

It’s like when you’re a kid and decide to put on a play or have a carnival in your backyard. You spend forty-eight to seventy-two crazed hours devoting every waking minute to making it happen, and then, poof, all of a sudden you run out of steam and your big idea dies a quiet death while you sit in front of the TV watching ancient Saved By the Bell episodes. (pg. 94)

That right there? That was me and my brother growing up (although the Saved By the Bell episodes weren’t quite so ancient at that time).

Dowell just has a knack for capturing those moments and feelings and experiences of youth and growing up and discovering your world. I am a huge fan of these types of stories, but only when they succeed — and Ten Miles Past Normal doesn’t just succeed; it excels.

It’s wonderful to watch Janie discover that she doesn’t need to change who she is to find her place in the world. She just needs to rock what she’s got (and she’s got plenty to rock, if only she’d realize that!) — even when that includes the occasional, unfortunate goat-poop-on-shoe incident.

Whether you’re going through the high school experience yourself, or reliving it vicariously, Ten Miles Past Normal will make you laugh, cry and feel nostalgic in all the right places. And it’s a good reminder that no matter who you are or where you live, we’re ALL a few miles past normal.

Ten Miles Past Normal hits stores on March 22nd.


5 thoughts on “Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

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  1. I just finished the novel, which I started last night. Yup, it was just too good to put down. I loved how the plot moved along like a slow, deep river. No one moment feel like white water rapids, but every moment was filled with life and meaning. This is a must read!

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