Define "Normal"

This is a Problem Novel.  Teens have Problems, which are mostly solved by Growing and Helping Each Other.  However, it's also immensely readable and enjoyable.  I found it difficult to reconcile the vaguely preachy message of the book and the well-isn't-that-convenient methods of resolution with the quick-moving plot and the cute banter between the characters (excluding the weird, made-up slang).  Define "Normal" definitely plays on the reader's emotions and expects the drama to overshadow the issues with the narrative.

Antonia has it all together.  She's a straight-A student who never gets in trouble and would never dream of doing something like getting a piercing or coloring her hair.  To her, that means you're a punk.  Worse, if you have colored hair and shredded clothes and a nose piercing, you must "hang with gangs" and do drugs and other ... nefarious deeds.  Shockingly, her new partner for peer counseling, Jazz (short for Jasmine) has piercings and tattoos and colored hair but isn't riddled with chlamydia or friends with "gang" members or some sort of psycho who stalks pretty, innocent preps and then drinks their blood.  Surprise!

It turns out that Jazz's family is super rich, but she fights with her parents all the time because they are very L.L. Bean and she is very Hot Topic.  Although Antonia may look like she has it all, her mom is constantly "sick" and in bed, and she has to scrounge food for herself and her little brothers.

In this book, you will learn vital lessons pertaining to:
  • Being a Judgey McJudgeypants
  • What it means to be Manic Depressive (okay, fine, it was the early aughts, but even then my family all said bipolar)
  • That just because you are pretty does not mean you are rich (because obviously the two things are connected in everyone's minds ...?)
  • That people can have Hidden Depths
The idea here was good, but it wasn't really handled with finesse.  I admit to being pretty breathless around two-thirds of the way through regarding the health of Antonia's family, but overall, I think we have books now that address these issues more realistically.  However, this would be a good book to start older elementary students on if they want something with drama but no sex.  It's a pretty clean book, however you want to define "clean."

For books on teens dealing with family/friends/life issues, I recommend anything by A.S. King (Reality Boy has my favorite dysfunctional family of all time, for what that's worth), anything by Laurie Halse Anderson, and most of Sarah Dessen (but not the last one because tee-heeing about a former fat kid is not okay, but that's another story).


  1. It was such a throwback seeing your review of this post. I read it near when it came out as an actual teen. I think I found it while I was shelving books during my first or second years as a page at the library. Memories!

    1. I remember this from when I was a teen too ... but I think I was too much of a "priss" to check it out! I was deep into Obscure British Authors then because I thought I was smart. Ah, teen years.


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