Book Review: 'Ten Miles Past Normal'

Filed under: Books for Kids

Rated ON for Ages 12 and Up

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this coming-of-age story celebrates independent spirits and open hearts. And it helps teens keep the everyday embarrassments of high school life in perspective. Janie is independent, smart, and -- despite her worries over fitting in -- confident. She is also politically aware and involved, as is her friend and family: Teens may learn a great deal about the civil rights struggle, social and environmental justice, and women in history. It's pretty tame for young adult fare -- no cursing, violence, or sexual content. The main character does go to jail, but it's a humorous, well-intentioned escapade.

The good stuff

  • Educational value: Teens may learn a great deal about the civil rights struggle, social and environmental justice, and women in history. Janie, Sarah, and their families are politically aware and involved.
  • Messages: This book celebrates independent spirits and open hearts. And it helps teens keep the everyday embarrassments of high school life in perspective.
  • Role models: The story is peopled by freethinking, well-intentioned characters. Janie is independent, smart, and -- despite her worries over fitting in -- confident. Her parents are engaged and supportive, even if they don't appreciate how she's struggling socially. The elderly veterans of the civil rights struggle she befriends are charming and inspiring in the way they triumphed over adversity.

What to watch out for

  • Violence: There are references to the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross on someone's lawn years ago. Some teasing in school doesn't rise to the level of bullying.
  • Sex: Just a brief, friendly kiss.
  • Language: Not an issue.
  • Consumerism: Several bands and an online store are mentioned, and there's quite a bit about buying "ethical chocolate."
  • Drinking, drugs, & smoking: A few teens are referred to as "Stoner Guys." Janie verbally accepts an offer of a beer from a friend who has one in his backpack at school, but doesn't end up taking it. There's also the suggestion that students are drinking alcohol hidden in soda cans during a band practice.
Book Summary

In elementary school, living on a farm was a social boon for Janie Gorman. But now that she's a high school freshman, being Farm Girl means she's different. Weird different. She's the girl who comes to school smelling like goat poop, or with hay in her hair. She desperately wants to feel she's "living large," as her best friend Sarah's older sister advocates. Janie and Sarah join the Jam Band, hoping to find a way to fit in and meet cute boys, and work together on an intriguing project about unsung heroes of the civil rights movement living in their community. What she learns helps put her embarrassment in perspective, and realize that normal is overrated.

Is It Any Good?

Independent-minded young teens will find kindred spirits to love and admire in this engaging novel. Janie's wry, self-aware voice is refreshingly high-spirited, even when she's at her most miserable. There isn't much drama to her coming-of-age story: no sweeping romances, no action-packed climax, no high-intensity decision point. But the small pieces come together for an insightful, authentic look at a teen girl figuring out what kind of life she wants to lead.

The characters' maturity may strain credibility a bit. Even the rebellious, grounded-for-staying-out-way-past-curfew-with-her-biker-boyfriend character is a stand-up kid with a strong moral compass. Janie also often seems much older than her years: She acknowledges strong feelings for a dear, older friend while swiftly realizing she isn't ready to date a man with his own apartment. Even so, her desire for acceptance is in tune with her age -- and will resonate with the tween and teen readers drawn into her quirky story.

This review of "Ten Miles Past Normal" was written by Darienne Hosley Stewart.

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