Review: Waiting for Normal

” ‘She’s not mine,’ Dwight said. ‘Feels like mine, but isn’t.’ That’s when I realized they were talking about me.” page 129

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor.
Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
MG contemporary fiction, 290 pages.
Lexile:  570L  .
AR Level:  3.7 (worth 7.0 points)  .

Addison Schmeeter’s entering a new phase of her life.  Since Mommers spent all the mortgage money, they lost the house.  Since Mommers left her girls at home alone for three days, the judge gave Addie’s ex-stepfather Dwight custody of her two younger sisters.  But Addie’s father is dead, so she’s saying with Mommers except for visits with her sisters.  Dwight bought them a trailer, and he gives her money for clothes or food.  So it’s sixth grade in another new place.

Waiting for Normal
Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor.

Most of this review contains spoilers as it’s difficult to talk about the more diverse aspects of the book without giving away plot points.  If you prefer to avoid them please skip to the final paragraph for my general opinion.

I debated reviewing this here.  It doesn’t fit my usual review criteria as the characters and authors aren’t diverse.  However, I do review books that deal with adoption, foster care, disability, and poverty.  But most of the book is about Addie’s life with her biological mother.

Addie’s mother isn’t very responsible – while she loves her children, she’s not able to take care of herself, let alone three young girls.  So as the oldest child, Addie did a lot of the caretaking for her sisters, and is understandably bereft at now having to live apart from them.  So she transitions into caring for her mother, a much more difficult proposition.  Her lifeline is Dwight and the chances she gets to see her sisters.  Her paternal grandfather also helps, although he isn’t overly fond of Dwight or Mommers.

So many aspects of this were absolutely true to life.  Mommers uses an advance from her new job (aka scam) to buy boxes of needless office supplies, so Addie carefully fills empty macaroni and cheese boxes with thumbtacks so they’ll sound and feel full when others check on her.  She never checks out library books for fear of not returning them, and her flute… well that breaks my heart.

Addie suffers from a common difficulty among neglected children.  She has a learning challenge (dyslexia), which the school and her family are aware of, but her mother is never able to access any help or even tell her what is wrong.  Instead Addie is informed that she, like her deceased father, doesn’t have “the love of learning.”  Oh and also that that’s why her parents broke up.  Burdened with these unrealistic expectations, Addie still tries to thrive and be a normal kid.

Having pared her life down to just the trailer and her sisters, Addie retains only one outside interest – music.  But since Mommers can’t even hold on to the food money, there’s no way she can pay the rental fee on an instrument.  Addie works twice as hard as the other students, memorizing every song since she can’t read music, but things like transportation to band concerts or appropriate clothing are even bigger complications.  These problems cause so much anxiety she eventually gives up even music.

As one might guess, their living situation eventually deteriorates.  One of Addie’s friends in the new neighborhood also passes away from cancer, and that is a major sub-plot.  For children who have trauma surrounding this, know that fire also plays a major role in the plot.  And a pet is neglected.

A bright spot in Addie’s life are visits with her two younger siblings.  However, these same visits can also overwhelm her and cause her to lash out, or act unpredictably.  I mentioned earlier that Addie is used to being the primary caretaker.  A word for this exists – parentification.  For children who have been parentified, providing for siblings can be a major part of their identity; children like Addie who have lost access to other hobbies and friends might feel threatened or grieve the loss of their parental responsibilities when they see others parenting younger siblings.

Other feelings she describes will be familiar to any children separated, whether it is through differences of biology, foster care, kinship, guardianship, or adoption.  Not being able to stay with the sisters she has known all their lives and at some points essentially raised is a major hardship for Addie, worse than all of her other problems, and she acts out occasionally in reaction.

Although this deals with some pretty big subjects and has some scary moments, it’s kept appropriate for middle school readers.  I think some younger kids could also read it, although I would pre-read for children under 4th grade, especially if they are sensitive or you think some of the situations Addie lives through might trigger them.

The world needs more books like this one or Sunny Side Up, that deal with difficult and traumatic topics from a MG perspective.  They are crucial both as mirrors for children experiencing similar situations and windows that allow other young readers to consider and learn about these topics in a non-threatening way.

Definitely recommended (with a prereading caution to parents and teachers).

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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