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Not Exactly Normal

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Overview

Todd Farrel attends tiny St. Luke's Episcopal School in rural New England. Each year the sixth graders finish winter term with their big social studies reports. Wanting to make his report something special this year, Todd finally decides to write about mystical experiences-something definitely not normal. After doing some research, Todd determines that he needs to have his own mystical experience.

While practicing soccer with his best friend, Nitro, listening to an unusual ...

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Overview

Todd Farrel attends tiny St. Luke's Episcopal School in rural New England. Each year the sixth graders finish winter term with their big social studies reports. Wanting to make his report something special this year, Todd finally decides to write about mystical experiences-something definitely not normal. After doing some research, Todd determines that he needs to have his own mystical experience.

While practicing soccer with his best friend, Nitro, listening to an unusual teacher who encourages original thinking, and giving in to his curiosity about Leda, the intelligent but unusual girl from California, Todd discovers some pretty extraordinary aspects to life in his ordinary world.

Not Exactly Normal is a book about being different and about fitting in, about accepting the differences of others and seeing ways that everyone is alike. It will challenge readers' assumptions and help them look at the world and their lives in new ways.

A sixth-grader at St. Luke's Episcopal School sets out to have a mystical experience and learns valuable lessons about himself and the world along the way.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What is normal exactly? Sixth-grader Todd is pretty sure he's utterly normal, even though so many of his classmates, friends, and even his teacher at his Episcopal school, all have something unique about them. But as Todd comes to understand his normalcy, he discovers that appreciating and accepting people just for who they are is what makes life truly extraordinary. On his journey to this self-enlightenment, Todd has what many might consider a mystical experience, a near-tragedy involving his friend Nitro and a fall through the ice on a frozen river. How these events affect him (and the "mystical" phenomenon in general) become the crux of his social studies report. Brown's debut novel serves up some dynamic kid characters in a mostly believable setting and stirs up some thought-provoking issues for them to consider. The adults, save for teacher Mr. Phillips and his pastor wife, seem contrived, but readers will likely forgive that small detraction to concentrate on Todd and his "normal," but still interesting, adventures. Ages 9-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This thoughtful, gentle novel explores what it's like to grow up in a structured and protected small-town environment. Todd Farrel and his younger brother Davis attend St. Luke's Episcopal School: a school limited by space to 180 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Todd's parents insist on nutritious family dinners every evening highlighted by regular discussion of the day's events. Todd swims and plays soccer and sings in the school choir. He is generally content with all this normality, but he also wishes he could be a little less average. When his sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Phillips, talks to the class about how the ordinary can be extraordinary and assigns an essay on heroes, Todd writes one called "I Am Not a Hero." Shortly before Christmas break, however, Todd and his best friend, Nitro, are practicing soccer kicks on the frozen river. When the ball lands in a pool of open water, Nitro falls in trying to reach it and disappears under the ice. Todd dives in and swims to shore with him, then drags him another two blocks to shelter. The next day, sitting alone on a hill overlooking the town, Todd understands what Mr. Phillips was talking about, and he is able to write his social studies report on mystical experiences. A section called "Read More About It" follows the text and gives information on some of the terms and historical figures mentioned in the book. 2005, Eerdmans BFYR/William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ages 9 to 12.
—Judy DaPolito
VOYA
Todd Farrel is a normal sixth grader, and it frustrates him. He is average at swimming, piano, soccer, and writing, but he wants to be extraordinary. When his homeroom teacher, Mr. Phillips, assigns the end-of-term paper, Todd chooses mystical experiences as his topic, and he is determined to have one of his own. But no one can force a mystical experience to happen, not even Todd, and it takes a traumatic event in the life of his best friend Nitro for Todd to be able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Brown's character development is uneven, but all teachers-at-heart will rejoice in the fully dimensional creation of Tim Phillips, married to Pastor Jill and whose Question Time every morning is open-ended, affirming for all, and beautifully interwoven with history, philosophy, and pop culture. This first-person narrative of a twelve-year-old is too cerebral and tedious for most middle schoolers yet too simple for more thoughtful older students. Todd is asking all the big questions-Why am I here? Is it okay to be different? Where is God? in an inauthentic voice that will fail to resonate with most readers. The conclusion is too easily resolved and overly didactic. Ultimately the creativity of Mr. Phillips far exceeds that of his author. VOYA CODES: 2Q 1P M (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; No YA will read unless forced to for assignments; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2005, Eerdmans, 231p.; Further Reading., $15. Ages 11 to 14.
—Melissa Moore
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Todd Farrel attends a small Episcopal school in New England. Each year, the sixth graders must write a social-studies term paper. After hearing about a classmate's mystical experiences, Todd decides to explore the topic for his project. Following extensive research at the library, he discovers that historical figures, including Joan of Arc and St. Francis, were driven to greatness by mystical revelations. In order to verify his report, he is convinced that he must experience his own epiphany. This is achieved during a near-death experience when he saves his best friend from drowning. Todd learns to accept and appreciate friends who are like him and those who are different. The final chapters are more compelling and exciting than the first part of the book, especially the near drowning in an icy pond, but readers must suspend disbelief to buy into the almost perfect outcome of the incident. Overall, this is a mildly interesting but didactic story.-Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802852878
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 8/28/2006
  • Pages: 234
  • Age range: 9 years
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Part of the Main? 1
2 Not Exactly Normal 28
3 Question Time 49
4 An Ug and a Yuck 71
5 Noodling 82
6 The Extraordinary Ordinary 103
7 Synchronicity 117
8 Seeing a Pattern 141
9 No Man Is an Island 161
10 It's Been Real 190
11 Middle C 210
Read More About It 229
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2006

    Refreshingly Not Exactly Normal

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! So much of modern literature fails to provide a satisfying ending. You invest time and energy into getting to know the characters, only to have an ending that does not ring true to their traits or story arc. Not so with NOT EXACTLY NORMAL!!! Mr. Brown artfully finessed the ending to leave you feeling complete and satisfied--in a true storyteller fashion. I felt rewarded for the investment I made in Todd Farrel. Mr. Brown also does an excellent job of conveying weighty, moral topics in a simplistic, easy to digest manner. While undertaking this task it would have been easy to cross the line into pedantic and preachy (many fine authors have slipped across this line), NOT EXACTLY NORMAL never feels that way! Mr. Brown seems to respect the reader and their ability to glean the moral issues rather than hitting you over the head with them. I also felt the characters were deftly drawn. The kids did age appropriate things, interacted with each other in a realistic fashion and spoke with voices that sounded like sixth graders (and not like an adult man trying to sound like a sixth grader). I whole-heartedly recommend this book for adults, as well as young adults! In NOT EXACTLY NORMAL, Mr. Brown has refreshed the art of good storytelling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2005

    A New Hope

    Growing up with a librarian for a grandmother, and a mother who loved books, I have been reading children's literature my whole life. I have been disappointed in the past few years to see so many authors focusing on the dark, scary aspects of life, instead of filling children with hope. Devin Brown has created a novel that definitely focuses on tough questions that young people deal with, but he leaves the reader with a sense of hope Todd's final realization is that there is good in the world, and that good doesn't have to come in a 'normal' package. Brown's characters are fun and engaging, and he assures young people that they are unique and valuable it is okay to be different, and that even if they struggle with feelings of normalcy, they still have a contribution to make to their family and community. I have a feeling that this novel will be appearing in many classrooms for Read Aloud time!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2005

    A New Star in Children's Literature

    Inspiring, wholesome, reading -- even if you are not a child! Devin Brown expertly weaves the lessons in Not Exactly Normal into the happenings of every day in the life of 6th grader, Todd Farrel, who struggles to find a balance between his perception of 'normal' and unique. The flowing dialogue entertains while inspiring contemplation about what it means to find one's own identity and still fit in -- to belong to a family, to be a best friend, to be a member of a community. The issues Todd faces reflect those of all adolescents, making this novel ideal for classroom reading and discussions. I will definitely be on the lookout for Devin Brown's next novel.

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