Peters, Julie Anne. Define “Normal.” Little, Brown, 2003. ISBN 978-0316734899 196 pp. $10.99
A punk and a priss make unlikely friends through a school peer counseling program. Antonia, a straight A student from a broken home, is stunned to discover that tattooed Jazz has musical aptitude when she hears her play classical piano piece. As the novel progresses, Antonia learns that appearances can be deceiving, and one shouldn’t judge a person on how s/he looks. Antonia slowly confides in Jazz about her mom’s incapability to care for her children, and her dad’s desertion, and Jazz reveals her conflicts with her parents over her dress, friends, and attitude. The two, each thinking they are counseling the other, don’t solve one another’s problems, but sometimes a sympathetic listening ear is enough.
The happy ending is a bit too perfect, but satisfying with the loose ends wrapped up. Unlike The Breakfast Club, Antonia and Jazz will probably continue to be friends even though the counseling sessions are over with.
Although the book starts out with stereotypes, Peters fights to break them done by creating protagonists who are complex teens who challenge convention. The girls are overly accepting and open-minded for most middle schoolers. Teachers, siblings, and parents are not very fleshed out. Humor helps diffuse the tension of many scenes. The teen slang seems to be invented for the novel–are there kids who really say “bode” for cool? The cover clearly shows the extremes of the two characters, and the excerpt on the back illustrates their dialogue with each speaking in a different color. This simple problem novel for middle schoolers will probably circulate well; try Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Don’t You Dare Read This Mrs. Dunphrey for a more complex and realistic look at the issue of parental abandonment.