by Frances O’Roark Dowell
First sentence: “No one can figure out where the terrible smell is coming from, but everyone on the bus this morning can smell it and has an opinion.”
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I wish I had read this book when I was 11. Seriously. I was a mixed up, not “normal”, and yet yearning to be, 11-year-old (granted, this is all faded memories now), and I would have loved a book that essentially showed me that you can find your space, that you can be yourself, and that “normal” is really what you make it out to be.
Janie Gorman, age 14, just wants to be normal. She lives on a mini-farm (just goats and chickens on five acres) that when she was 9 years old, she was enthusiastic about. Now, in her freshman year of high school, set adrift from her middle school friends and faced with seemingly endless teasing about the smell of her lifestyle, she’s not quite as enthusiastic. In fact, she’s downright disdainful. Nothing about this year seems to be going right; even her best friend, Sarah, seems to be drifting away.
All Janie really wants to be is normal. Normal life, normal friends, normal interests. And yet, in this small North Carolina town, she slowly learns — through new friends, new interests and getting to know people better — that normal is relative. And that sometimes, being past normal and into your own little thing is a better way to be.
It’s a sweet book, with Dowell’s trademark simplicity and tenderness without being too sappy. Janie felt like a real teenager: she’s not a bad kid, just someone who yearns for something… simpler, something she can hold on to as her own. I loved the characters in this book, and the fact that the message of being yourself is there without being preachy or hitting you over the head.
And I really do wish I’d read it when I was 11.