Not Exactly Normalby Devin Brown
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.
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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.
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!
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.