The Horn Book
When Janie Gorman was a little girl, she wanted to live on a goat farm. She sold her dream so well that her parents actually moved to the country (Manneville, North Carolina) and started a farm. Now, though, she is a ninth grader who knows that showing up with goat excrement on her shoe is not going to get her into the popular clique. Janie narrates her first year in high school with her sure, smart, sarcastic voice–probably the same persuasive voice she used on her parents. She lives far from her longtime best friend Sarah, with only her bicycle for transportation. High school becomes a little more bearable when two things happen: cute boy Jeremy Fitch and his jam band allow Janie into their group, and a school history project leads Janie and Sarah to aging civil rights activists. Dowell gets all the details of ninth grade right: the changing relationships with friends; the allure and disappointment of the forbidden boy; embarrassing parents; and how having a passion changes everything. The secondary characters are kids you would like to hang out with, especially Monster, the oversized, loving friend who is just too old to be Janie’s boyfriend, and Sarah’s cool, nonconformist sister Emma. Middle schoolers with an eye to the future will love imagining themselves into Janie’s world.
National Public Radio
Funny, wise, and artfully realistic, Dowell offers the upside of abandoning normal, embracing your own weirdness and barreling on with life.
A quirky coming-of-age for girls ready to discover their cool aunt’s stash of vintage copies of Sassy. In her first months of high school, Janie Gorman is discovering the unfortunate, not at all subtle differences between offbeat and off-putting as the daughter of a rather dilettantish farming family. Sure, she sews her own up-cycled clothes, creating skirts “made out of an old pair of jeans and some killer fabric scraps,” and embraces milking the farm’s goats, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Patsy Cline. But to catch the bus on time, Janie occasionally forgets to remove the hay from her hair or scrape the goat dung from her shoes, and it’s getting her noticed, in a feeling-forced-to-hide-in-the-library-during-lunch kind of way. Encouraged by the sweet, thoughtful and utterly misnamed Monster Monroe to “live large” and embrace her whole, idiosyncratic self, Janie and her best friend, straight-laced and super-academic Sarah, go all-in. They hurl themselves into a project highlighting local heroes of the Civil Rights Era, learn to play bass and accordion and outgrow a hopeless shared crush on hunky jerk Jeremy Fitch. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and the plot occasionally teeters under the weight of its many developments and down-home secondary characters, but Janie’s voice–anxious, funny and winning holds it all together as she finds and takes her place at school and on the farm.
School Library Journal
When Janie was nine she persuaded her parents to move to a small farm. Now that she is 14, that life has lost some of its charm. She is rarely noticed at school, except for things like manure-scented shoes. Still, Janie is hopeful about high school, and she and her friend Sarah try branching out–joining Jam Band, making new friends, and working on an intriguing local-history project. There is a love interest (or two), and parental embarrassment, and Sarah’s cool older sister to look up to. But none of these standard YA novel tropes is handled in a standard way. Dowell brings a completely refreshing take on the coming-of-age novel. Janie is not suffering through anything harsher than trying to find her place in high school. That can be difficult enough, as the author seems to know. Janie is realistic, smart, crabby, emotional, loving to her family, not overly dramatic. Dowell’s writing is smart, lithe, and cheerful. The plot covers only a few weeks’ time, and the story flies along. It’s about making friends, keeping friends, trying to broaden horizons, meeting boys, seeing idols from a different perspective, and staying true to oneself without feeling lost in a big school. Throw in an interesting subplot about civil-rights history and you’ve got a rich book that will resonate with young teens who may not see themselves in other, darker, YA literature.–Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT
Although Frances O’Roark Dowell is a best-selling and highly acclaimed author of novels for young readers, Ten Miles Past Normal is her first novel for teens. She lives up to her acclaim in this unusual coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old girl who is far from normal, but very endearing.