Sunday, October 2, 2011

TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Janie absolutely hates high school, but she knows she is partly to blame.  If she hadn't made that crazy suggestion to her parents back when she was nine years old, maybe they wouldn't be living on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Back in good old elementary school, Janie had gone on a field trip to a quaint little organic farm.  That night at dinner she had gushed about a wonderful life on the farm and suggested that they should leave the suburbs and live on a farm of their own.  Who knew that her parents would actually like the idea?  Now Janie is starting high school and the novelty of living on a mini-farm has definitely worn off.

In just a few short weeks of high school, Janie has spent one day walking around with a chunk of hay in her hair, been stared at in gym class because of a rash on her legs caused by an allergic reaction to some kind of organic worm-based fertilizer, and most recently been heckled on the bus because of the stinky goat poo attached to her shoe.  She had always dreamed of being part of the popular crowd, going to school dances, and joining clubs.  Now all she does is stumble from one class to the next and hide out in the library during lunch.

Janie's friend Sarah is also looking to make her mark in high school.  After hearing the Jam Band perform at an assembly, the two girls are smitten with the lead guitarist Jeremy Fitch.  They worship him from afar until one day he actually speaks to them and invites them to a Jam Band rehearsal.  Sarah claims she plays bass guitar and tells him Janie sings.  Neither claim is true, but once they have their foot in the door, they hope that won't matter.

It turns out Sarah is too small to play bass, but a band member named Monster thinks Janie might have real potential.  Her sudden association with Monster seems to bring positive attention to Janie and her high school future just might be about to turn around.  Now if she could just do something about the embarrassing farm-life blog her mother posts three times a week.

Author Frances O'Roark Dowell came to my attention when I ran across her novel CHICKEN BOY.  I have read it to my seventh graders for several years.  Thanks to a curious student wanting to see if Dowell had written any other books, I found TEN MILES PAST NORMAL.  I now have to say it is on my list of all time favorites. 

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