Monday, March 14, 2011

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

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Janie Gorman wants to be normal. The problem with that: she’s not. She’s smart and creative and a little bit funky. She’s also an unwilling player in her parents’ modern-hippy, let’s-live-on-a-goat-farm experiment (regretfully, instigated by a younger, much more enthusiastic Janie). This, to put it simply, is not helping Janie reach that “normal target.” She has to milk goats every day…and endure her mother’s pseudo celebrity in the homemade-life, crunchy mom blogosphere. Goodbye the days of frozen lasagna and suburban living, hello crazy long bus ride to high school and total isolation—and hovering embarrassments of all kinds. The fresh baked bread is good…the threat of homemade jeans, not so much.

It would be nice to go back to that old suburban life…or some grown up, high school version of it, complete with nice, normal boyfriends who wear crew neck sweaters and like social studies. So, what’s wrong with normal? Well, kind of everything. She knows that, of course, why else would she learn bass and join Jam Band, how else would she know to idolize infamous wild-child and high school senior Emma (her best friend Sarah’s older sister), why else would she get arrested while doing a school project on a local freedom school (jail was not part of the assignment). And, why else would she kind of be falling in "like" with a boy named Monster—yes, that is his real name. Janie was going for normal, but she missed her mark by about ten miles…and we mean that as a compliment.


I remember reading a few of Frances's novels when I was younger (including The Secret Language of Girls) and really enjoying them. They were sweet and fun coming-of-age stories just like Ten Miles Past Normal. If you're looking for an endearing and entertaining read about a normal girl just trying to find out who she is, albeit with a few bumps along the way, this is definitely the book for you. Janie was a delightful main character who I was always rooting for and her adventures on the farm and in school were a delight to read about.

When Janie Gorman was just a happy, bouncy youngster she convinced her parents that it would be a great idea to move to a farm. How many parents would actually agree to that and take the plunge? Unfortunately for future-Janie, the senior Gorman's were just as enthusiastic about the project and Janie and her younger sister Avery soon found themselves growing up on a small goat farm. I enjoyed reading about Janie's different farm chores and how much she cared for their three goats. It must have been hard for her because the kids at her school weren't very understanding of the fact that sometimes she didn't have time to pluck all the hay out of her hair or notice the goat poop stuck to the bottom of her flat. Freshman year if hard enough and to add the fact that you don't ever get to see your friends and are harassed on the bus just makes things ten times worse.

Luckily, as the novel progresses, Janie begins to find her niche in the great jungle known as high school. She befriends a fellow outcast in the library and she learns to play the bass and joins the school's Jam Band. All of the characters introduced in Ten Miles Past Normal were unique and interesting. Janie's best friend Sarah with her radical ideas about changing the world; Sarah's older sister, Emma, who Janie and Sarah idolized; Monster, the tall and sweet guy who helped Janie learn to play the bass; and more.

The plot was a bit sporadic but it managed to tie in a variety of different plot lines that made the story that much better. I especially liked reading about the people Janie met who had fought against racial discrimination and made a difference in their community. Janie's story was a delightful coming-of-age tale that proved being normal isn't always the best way to be.

Overall, Ten Miles Past Normal is perfect for reading on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's fun and light and full of heart. While at times a bit random, this new release by Dowell will sure to capture a lot of middle grade-young adult readers.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

March 22, 2011/Atheneum/225 Pages/Young Adult

Source: Publisher (Galley Grab)


  1. Sounds like a very cute book(:
    How many pages was it?

  2. OH MY GOD, she wrote The Secret Language of Girls? That book is STILL sitting on my bookshelf, lol... But, yep, this definitely sounds like another cute, light read. Great review as always, Kelsey! :)

  3. I loved this book. I agree that the plot was pretty sporadic. It seemed like there wasn't much of a plot at all. It was really about a normal teenager growing up with all the normal teenager problems. I like that her life was so realistic. No horrible family or impending death. It shows that regular life can be interesting.

  4. This sounds cute and fluffy, I do feel I've kind of seen that plot before but anyways, it seems like the type of book I'd really enjoy if I'm in the mood for it :) great review!
    ps~dropping by from comment exchange!

  5. Haven't heard too much about this one yet, so I'm happy to see your review.I have to agree with you from the sound of it, it would make a perfect Sunday afternoon read. :)

  6. Awww, this sounds cute. I remember being a bit younger and reading The Secret Language Of Girls. Makes me feel a little old now, lol. Thanks for the great review, Kelsey! :)

  7. Sounds like I might like this one but I'm a little worried about all the random bits.

  8. Hi Kelsey,

    I'm Kate Evangelista, author of Taste, and I just wanted to take this time to introduce myself. If you have the time, please stop by The Coffee Bar by using the link below:

    I hope to see you there.


  9. LIke the idea of so many unique characters!

  10. Yes, same author as The Secret Language of Girls :)

    And it's 225 pages- very short!


I love getting comments, so feel free to leave your thoughts :)