Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal

Frances O'Roark Dowell
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2011   ISBN: 978-1416995852

When Janie was nine, she suggested to her parents that they should live on a farm instead of in town. She thought it would be great to have some goats and chickens. To her amazement, Janie’s parents agreed to this idea and soon after the family moved to a “mini farm” outside town. While she was in elementary and middle school, living on a farm was great, but now that she is in high school, Janie wishes more than anything that she could live a “normal life” like the one her friend Sarah has.

On two separate occasions Janie’s “Farm World” life has given her grief at school. The first time she walked around with a piece of hay in her hair for hours before anyone told her it was there, and the second time she went to school with extremely odiferous goat poo on her shoe. Both incidents made the other students laugh at her, and they made uncomplimentary comments about her farm girl life. Now Janie wants to blend in as much as possible, and she tries to be as inconspicuous as she can. She spends the lunch break in the library, she has made no new friends, and - not surprisingly - she hates high school.

Then, things start to change. Janie and her best friend Sarah are very attracted to a boy called Jeremy, Fitch who plays in the Jam Band. Wanting to have the opportunity to talk to him, Sarah tells Jeremy that she might be interested in playing the bass guitar in the Jam Band. She even volunteers Janie as a potential singer. Jeremy takes the girls up on their insincere offer, and his friend Monster (yes that is his real name) lets Sarah try one of his bass guitars. It is soon clear that the bass is just too big for Sarah to manage. Janie agrees to try it and almost from the first moment, she loves the instrument.

Soon Janie is playing with the Jam Band on Friday afternoons. She also befriends Verbena, another lost girl who hangs out in the library. Then Janie and Sarah decide to do a class project about a local woman who created a school during the 1950s. The school helped African-Americans to learn how to read and write so they could vote. The girls meet several of the people who were involved with the school, and Sarah’s big sister Emma becomes involved in the project. Janie has known Emma for years and she has always liked the “wild” girl who has her own style. Now, as they learn about the Freedom School and the people who built it, Janie finds out that Emma is not the person she thought she was. Not at all.

In this funny, poignant and truly delightful novel, the author explores the idea that perhaps being “normal” is not all it is cracked up to be. It is easy to understand why Janie wants to just fit in with the mainstream, but thankfully things don’t work out that way. Instead, she finds herself taking a different path altogether, a path that leads her to new friends, old friends, and memorable adventures.