Review x 2: The Distance Between Us and Ten Miles Past Normal

Jun 6, 2017


With these two books, I'm checking off another goal on my 2017 list: Read two young adult novels.

And yet, I don't feel like I should check it off.

Why? Because the whole point of that goal was to help me find realistic, clean, well-written YA novels that I felt like I could recommend. And I don't think either of these achieved that objective. Not exactly anyway.

I read The Distance Between Us by Kasie West first. It's about a girl, Caymen, who lives with her single mother and helps run their porcelain doll shop in a small touristy town. One day, Xander Spence walks into the shop on an errand for his grandmother. He's good-looking, extremely wealthy, and just a little bit snobbish. Of course Caymen has absolutely zero interest in him, except actually she's completely smitten with him. And wouldn't you know it, Xander seems to like her, too.

I rolled my eyes a good deal through this whole book, but then spent one evening forgetting about everything else except finishing it.

Then I moved onto Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell about 14-year-old Janie Gorman who lives on a farm with her parents and sister. They haven't always lived on a farm, but several years before, they decided (at Janie's urging) that they wanted to be more independent and try living off the land. But now Janie's going to high school, and she very much wants to just blend in and hide her association with anything rural or country. Then she meets Monster Monroe (that's his real name), and he doesn't seem the least bit caught up in all the social pressures of high school. Hanging out with him not only helps Janie be okay with being herself but also introduces her to a new hobby she really loves.

This one was cute and quirky and made me smile, but again, I didn't come away totally impressed.

But here's the thing: were both of these novels realistic? Yes, at least to a certain extent--no fairies or time travel or anything like that. Were they clean? Yes, very, especially Ten Miles Past Normal, which was a little more juvenile. I wouldn't have any problem recommending either of them on that point. Were they well-written? Yes, not in a wow-me kind of way, but the writing didn't annoy or distract me.

So on all my criteria, both books earned at least decent, if not outstanding, marks. So what is my problem? Why can't I just bestow my stamp of approval and move on?

And I guess the answer is I'm looking for something more. I want a book that transports me into the story, not one that leaves me standing with a skeptical look on the side. I want writing that compels me to come back for more and stays with me long after the final sentence. I want characters that make me think deeply or, on the flip side, provide a good dose of amusement and entertainment. This is what I expect from the middle grade and adult fiction I read, so it doesn't seem too much to ask young adult fiction to do the same.

I think if I'd read these books when I was sixteen, my feelings about them might have been very different. And maybe that says something: as a thirty-two-year-old mother of five, I'm not exactly the target audience. But I feel like a book that is really well done will make me feel like I'm sixteen again and might even make me want to be sixteen again. Maybe.

So I'm still on a quest for clean, realistic, well-written YA. You all gave so many great suggestions on my goals post, and I'm planning to return to those comments for more ideas, but if you've read a YA novel recently that has wowed you, please tell me about it. Maybe it will wow me, too.

16 comments:

  1. After reading this review it made me think of Joan Bauer. Is she considered YA? I read "Rules of the Road" as a teen and enjoyed it and reread it a few times. The only other book I've read of hes is "Hope was Here." And I enjoyed that as well. Seems like "Eggs" by Jerry Spinelli might be more YA than children's, but it's been a while since I've read it.

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    1. I think some of her books would be considered YA for sure. I've read a couple of hers...Hope Was Here and Backwater (I think?). I like her writing. There does seem to be a bit of a blurry line sometimes between middle grade and YA (and, interestingly, YA and adult). Maybe I just need to call more of the middle grade books I like YA instead. :-)

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  2. The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

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    1. Added it to my to-read list. Thanks for the rec!

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  3. I definitely understand your feelings. I've given 4 stars to many YA books that I would never rate that highly had they had been marketed as adult fiction. I guess I've just become (mostly) okay with rating YA and middle-grade books on their entertainment factor...because that's why I reach for these kinds of books. Contemporar YA books that have real staying power (for me Code Name Verity is the gold standard) are much fewer and far between.

    Some high quality YA I've read: The Crossover, The Phantom Tollbooth, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Wednesday Wars, The Willoughbys (not at all serious but the humor is evidence of the author's skill in writing). Also, Speak and Split - both deal with heavy topics. If I had kids I would only give these books to older teens and I would insist on reading/discussing with them.

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    1. It's funny because I've read The Crossover, The Phantom Tollbooth, Brown Girl Dreaming, and The Wednesday Wars (and loved all of them), but I've always labeled them as middle grade rather than YA...I guess I think if they're winning the Newbery rather than the Printz, they're middle grade. So maybe I just need to include more books in the YA category.

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  4. If only they would release a clean version of Eleanor and Park. It was a stunning novel, but it had a lot of swearing. Not what I'd want my teen reading and enough to keep me from trying her other YA novels. Good luck on your quest!

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    1. Yes, I wish! I've been wanting to read that one (and maybe still will at some point), but I have a feeling it won't be one I'll feel comfortable recommending to an actual teenager. Sad.

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  5. I liked The Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, which is about a young woman whose college plans are disrupted when her cash-strapped parents spend her college fund her senior year of high school. So she needs to raise some money, and somehow ends up managing a band. And she's deaf. I think it's fairly clean, although I realize looking it up that I read it in 2011, which is longer ago than I thought, so I could be forgetting things. Anyway, in addition to being a fun YA book, it left me thinking about what we owe our families and what they owe us, and other Deep Thoughts.

    My review: https://libraryfrog.blogspot.com/2011/02/music-for-deaf-five-flavors-of-dumb.html

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    1. This sounds like a fascinating book! Thanks for the rec!

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  6. I think it's so true that contemporary YA isn't what it used to be. If it's going to be "good" and "thought-provoking," that means it's also going to contain a fair amount of heavy or disturbing material that might be realistic, but that I still wouldn't want to recommend to any teens I know. I appreciate some of the lighter, fun, beachy, (but still clean) YA books out there, but it sounds like you're looking for something with a little more depth, which is hard to find. I remember "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman being a pretty thought-provoking, well-written contemporary YA book, but it's been a few years since I've read it, so I don't know if it's a completely clean recommend.

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    1. I'm definitely not opposed to the lighter, fluffier books, but even those tend to have a fair amount of inappropriate content. (I remember being disappointed with To All the Boys I've Loved Before because of the language and mention of sex, but it was a book I would have thoroughly enjoyed if that stuff had been removed, and I feel like it could have been without disrupting the story.)

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  7. As a 34 yr old mom I'm not the target audience anymore and I find it harder to find cute YA that sucks me in. But last year I read Love & Gelato and loved it. Italy, cute characters and clean romance = lots of fun. I also enjoyed reading last year Morgan Matson's The Unexpected Everything - though it might have a had a bit of language, I can't remember (if it did it wasn't too bad because it's not jumping out at me).

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    1. I haven't heard of either of those! I'm excited to check them out! Thanks!

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  8. I'm in the same boat when it comes to YA contemporary fiction. I'm hesitant to read any because of the content now a days that they throw in to make it "good." I recently read "Flipped" by Wendelin Van Draanen and it actually gave me some things to think about it about with our perspective of people until we really get to know them. The movie was really good too and it follows the book almost exactly.

    I'm sort of embarrassed to admit this but I actually like a couple of LDS YA novels. I read these in high school so that's probably why I liked them. Maybe not the best written type novels but still fun, fast, and in some ways thought provoking. :) The two that come to mind is "The Secret Journal of Brett Colton" and "A Love Like Lilly" both by Kay Lynn Mangum. Anyway, good luck on your search! Let us know if you find any more good ones.

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    1. Ha, I have books like that too, but you know what? If they're enjoyable, it doesn't matter if they're not sophisticated or high quality literature. Sometimes reading a fun, light read is just what I need, so thanks for sharing those titles!

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