Ten Miles Past Normal is the charmingly quirky story of fourteen-year-old Janie Gorman whose family has moved from an average neighborhood to a goat farm, complicating her world as she enters high school: “Now it’s time to enter Farm World with my mental mixed bag of feelings. The farm is beautiful! (It smells.) It’s natural! (It makes me smell, naturally.) It’s environmentally friendly! (It’s an environment that produces teenage girls who are shunned by their peers for smelling like their environment.)”
One morning after doing chores, Janie gets on the school bus with goat poop on the bottom of her shoe, which brings on an onslaught of ridicule and turned up noses. Then in the girls’ bathroom as she cleans the matter off the bottom of her shoe a girl recognizes her as the person who had a horrible rash on her legs which was actually, according to Janie “ . . . this organic fertilizer my dad was trying,” I explain, trying to pretend we’re having a perfectly normal teenage girl conversation. “Turns out I’m allergic to worm castings. But I’m not actually allergic to worms. Go figure.”
There is much humor in the story and also heartache. The awkwardness and isolation Janie feels causes her to pull back from family and classmates as she aches for a normal life—to just be invisible. She spends lunch period in the library and has only one class with her best friend, Sarah, from her old neighborhood.
But when Janie meets a girl in the library who draws tattoos on herself with Sharpie markers as she hides from lunch period and an upper classman named Monster who lives alone in an abandoned motel things begin to change. Even though Monster leads a vastly different life from his fellow classmates, he is comfortable in his own skin, utterly honest, and likeable. He’s part of a band and teaches Janie to play the bass guitar.
There is also a story thread involving three elder civil rights advocates that Janie and her best friend Sarah become acquainted with during research for a school project. The thread weaves in and out of the story adding depth and reinforcing the notion that when you stay true to yourself and your beliefs amazing things can be accomplished.
This is a story of personal growth, individuality, friendship, and family as Janie moves past wanting to be normal/invisible to moving into her own individuality where life opens up and she sees the possibility of living large and making a difference.
The voice is immediately engaging and the characters are well developed and unique so that a reader may feel they would recognize a conversation between Janie, Monster, Sarah, and the other characters if they sat next to them in a coffee shop. A really enjoyable read.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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