Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
Ten Miles Past Normal is a nice enough YA book. It’s sweet and not too complicated and the stakes are pretty low, though they feel high to the 14-year-old protagonist, of course. She’s just started freshman year, and she feels lost and alone in her new school. She’s “different” because she lives on a farm and has been made fun of a few times for bringing the farm to school with her–hay in her hair, goat shit on her shoe, etc. The book is about how she comes to terms with being different, through trying some new things, meeting new people, and getting a fresh perspective on old friends and her community. Specifically, she learns to play bass guitar, joins a “jam band” club at school and completes a project on civil rights history. There’s a hint of love interest, but it’s as chaste as can be. Of course, in the end she discovers that “different” is actually way better than “normal.”
This novel is short, easy, innoffensive, simple. I can see how it might be quite therapeutic to an outsider 11-15-year-old girl not unlike the one I once was. It’s not quite complex enough to be as interesting for adult audiences as it would be for the teens it’s intended for, though. But then, every YA novel doesn’t have to appeal to adults as well as teens. It’s nice when they do, but they don’t have to. This book does the job it was supposed to do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.