Monday, July 27, 2009

Waiting for Normal

If you have an 8 to 12 year old looking for a good summer read, then you might want to check out Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down, and once I finished it, I couldn't get it out of my head. It is that good.

It's told in the voice of Addie, a 12 year old who lives with her mom ("Mommers") in a trailer in the middle of a vacant lot in Schenectady, NY. Previously they had lived with her wonderful stepfather Dwight and two little sisters ("the littles"). But after Dwight and her mom got divorced, he got custody of the two little girls because of maternal neglect. Unfortunately, Addie is not his daughter and has to stay with her self-centered mom.

Addie is a character that kids will relate to. In the beginning, she comes across as just a regular kid. School is hard for her, and she lacks self-confidence. It doesn't help that her mom has told her she doesn't have the "Love of Learning," and Addie feels below average. But throughout the story, you begin to see that she is anything but average, and her growth is discernible by the end. She yearns to play the piccolo so she takes up the flute as a beginning instrument. Through hard work she makes the Stage Orchestra at school. There's a whole subplot going on about her "stolen" flute, which climaxes at the Winter Holiday Show.

Addie is resilient, to say the least. She has great coping mechanisms, which come in handy at home and at school. School is difficult for her, but she works hard at it. Towards the end of the book, Wayne explains to her that she has dyslexia, which is why learning is not easy for her. This helps her realize that she's not "dumb", but, in fact, just learns a little differently.

Slowly, she builds her own community which is made up of the workers at the nearby mini mart (Elliott and Soula), a couple of good girl friends at school, a wonderful music teacher and a hamster named Piccolo. Connor develops each of these characters beautifully, and you end up caring for them as much as Addie does. Elliott and Soula, in particular, are not your average 12- year-old girl's friends. Soula is a large woman going through chemotherapy for breast cancer and Elliott is a gay man. Both of them befriend and watch out for Addie on the home front, something her mom seems utterly incapable of doing. Even "Mommers" is portrayed in a way that doesn't make her out as a total monster. Is she selfish? Yes. Is she incapable of caring for her child? Yes. But there's an underlying sadness to her that makes her more than just a one-dimensional character.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the portrayal of Addie's stepfather Wayne. How many good stepfathers can you think of in children's literature? Not many, huh. Well, he is a jewel. All throughout the book, I found myself wishing Addie could go and live with him and the "littles." I really was invested in all of their lives. If that's not a sign of a good read, then I don't know what is. Waiting for Normal is a heartwarming tale that reminds us that there is goodness in this world, even in the most unexpected places.

BookNosher Tidbit: Waiting for Normal won the Schneider Family Book Award. The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

BookNosher Activity: Although I read Waiting for Normal to myself, I think this would be a great read-aloud for a 5th, 6th or 7th grade class. There are a lot of great topics to discuss in it.


Anonymous said...

I haven't read a book myself in awhile. I've seen many a Mom reading the Twilight books -- so reading a kid book is not out of the realm. I have to say your synopsis has me hooked and when I'm done I might pass it along to my 9 year old niece.

carminette said...

Hey Robin,

speaking of awesome middle grade reads...have you read Rebecca Stead's 'When You Reach Me' yet? I know it is getting crazy mad pre-newbery hype, but I have to say I really did love it and I suspect you might as well. It is a realistic family and friendship story with a time travel mystery thrown in set in 1970s New York City. Great 'Wrinkle in Time' references and wonderful characters. We have it at the library so come on by and check it out.


Robin Gaphni said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I just placed a hold on 'When You Reach Me,' so I'll be in soon. (I always trust your recommendations.)