Ten Miles Past Normal

Audiobooks hold a special place in my literary heart. Not only do they make commuting time more enjoyable, but they have a way of immersing me in a story that is beyond compare. Recently, I listened to Ten Miles Past Normal, the YA debut by Frances O’Roark Dowell. In short, I didn’t want this story to end. Even though it doesn’t need a sequel, I desperately want one!

Janie used to love living on a farm, but now she just wants to be normal. As a high school freshman, she is having trouble finding her crowd (so realistic) and she ends up discovering how she can be a part of something bigger than herself, whether it be fighting for change or learning to play bass with the school’s jam band. I really liked Janie’s character, and I also loved Monster, the older high school student who takes her under his wing when she stumbles into a plan to learn to play the bass. An interesting, inter-generational subplot about the Civil Rights movement also move the story along.

Janie’s troubles adjusting to high school have turned her into an uncommunicative teen. I appreciated how this story helped us understand why she might be short with her parents, as well as why her parents react the way they do. For this reason, it would be a great family read or book discussion.

The narrator, award-winning Jessica Almasy, performed this story brilliantly. I plan to track down the rest of her work pronto. I loved how distinct and beautiful each of the characters’ voices were, including the Southern accents (again, LOVE Monster!).

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book a perfect 5 star rating was the fact that Janie didn’t have any major obstacles or missteps in this story. I’m okay with that, but I was surprised she didn’t need to be a little proactive in solving her problems or that she didn’t go so far off the deep end to experience some kind of consequence.

That being said, I very much enjoyed this book and believe it would be appropriate for 5th-8th graders to read and 4th-8th graders to listen to. This would also be a great family vacation listen and could be an interesting catalyst for conversations about family dynamics.


The Value of Millions

During the last couple of weeks, I listened to the audiobook version of the book Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The story of two preteen brothers (saint-loving Damian and future investment banker Anthony) is both heartwarming and funny as we follow their quest to spend over 200,000 British pounds before England converts to the Euro. Damian thinks the money was sent to them from God so they could perform good deeds, a fact which is supported by the various saintly visions he has. Anthony knows better and thinks the money should be used to expand their investment portfolio by buying a house. As the days until conversion near, Anthony learns that the money came from a robbery attempt and Damian realizes that the money is creating more problems than it solves.Tonight I saw the movie based on the book and I highly recommended it. The screenplay was written by the author, so the story’s voice and integrity remained intact. The book is told in first person, so I was impressed with how well the movie revealed the character of Damian. Both boys were adorable and Damian’s effort to do the right thing and deal with this mother’s death were very touching. The father was shown as strong, hardworking, loving, and vulnerable, which I found honest and compelling. His burgeoning relationship with another women adds another twist to this already dynamic slice of real family life. The cinematic effects and diverse soundtrack complete this well-done adaptation of an excellent book.Don’t trust me? Check out Roger Ebert’s review. He says, “This is one of the best films of the year.”