Award-winning book tells engaging tale of friendship

“Define Normal” is the National Book Award-winning tale of an uncommon friendship.

“Define “Normal” is a National Book Award Finalist written by Julie Anne Peters. It is a realistic fiction novel that tells the tale about a punk and prep girl discovering they have more in common than they thought at first glance.

Peter’s novel is narrated by Antonia Dillon, an eighth-grader honors student who everyone calls Antonia except for one girl who gave her the nickname “Tone” in the first chapter. This girl is Jasmine Luther, who is known as “Jazz.”

In the first chapter, Antonia and Jazz met during their first peer counseling session. Antonia describes Jazz as “A punker. A druggie. A gang hanger. Peer counseling? Jazz needed long-term professional psychotherapy.” Antonia is highly against counseling Jazz, and she even goes far enough to say, “She’s not my peer, Dr. DiLeo.” I almost blurted, “She doesn’t have a peer.”

Aside from school drama, the reader soon learns that Antonia raises her brothers Michael and Chuckie all by herself on account of her dad not being around and her mom being too sick to get out of bed most days. On the other hand, Jazz lives in a mansion with both her parents. Jazz and her mother are distant. Her mother judges Jazz for her style, and Jazz claims that her mother is “awful.”

Antonia and Jazz spend a few weeks getting to know each other and struggling to connect in their sessions when Antonia’s mother has a breakdown. Antonia finds out that her mom took Michael and Chuckie to a hotel across from a bar after Michael calls her and she gets Mrs. Luther to drive her there. They find Michael waiting for them on the sidewalk and go inside to see Antonia’s mother “hunched up, hugging her knees on the filthy floor” and unresponsive.

Mrs. Luther calls a friend of hers who is a doctor to bring Antonia’s mom to St. Joseph’s Hospital for treatment. She then takes the Dillon kids back to her house and tells them that they can stay there while her mom receives help.

Antonia and Jazz are now stuck together through this experience and need to find a way to connect with each other if they want to traverse family and school drama safely. Will they be able to look past the labels of what is “normal” and become unlikely friends? Or will their differences be too much to bear?

This book is simple while also able to keep readers on the edge of their seats. It is a quick read, only 196 pages, but the pacing of the story flows without seeming too rushed. Overall, “Define “Normal” will have even the most reluctant readers not able to put the book down until the end of Antonia and Jazz’s story of stereotyping and different understandings of what is and isn’t normal.

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