Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Shot at Normal

E ARC provided by Netgalley

**Slight spoiler**

Juniper's parents have an alternative lifestyle that involves organic food, selling herbs at the local farmers' market, and homeschooling. Before moving to Playa Bonita, Juniper was fine with it, because she had a group of friends and wasn't so isolated. Now, with the high school right across the street, she's tired of her parents convictions interfering with her life. She can't go to school because she hasn't been vaccinated, and they won't even let her get a job at a mainstream coffee shop where she might actually meet some people. When Juniper gets ill with a fever, her mother thinks it is just flu, but as she worsens and ends up in the hospital, it turns out to be the measles. Since she had been at the farmers' market with her mother when she was exhibiting symptoms, she has seen lots of people. Unfortunately, this leads to a tragic death, and Juniper decides she needs to be vaccinated. A local walk in clinic refuses, and advises her to get a lawyer. Researching at the local library, Juniper meets Nico. The two take to each other, and he invites her to go to his school's film club with him. This is a pleasant distraction at a time of growing tensions between her and her parents. Her parents acknowledge that the local death is bad, but staunchly maintain that they have to do the best for their own children, even though Juniper's siblings have also become ill. Eventually, Juniper's identity becomes known in the small community, and the family is on the receiving end of threats and vandalism. All the while, her relationship with Nico progresses in a charming way, with him showing her his geeky treehouse, asking her to a school dance, and going hiking, which leads to an unfortunate incident where he is stung by a bee. Since he is very allergic, he ends up in the hospital but is fine. Juniper has confided in Nico about her parents and vaccinations, and his mother has a friend who is a lawyer who offers to help. Juniper loves her family, and usually is okay with their lifestyle, so she doesn't want to be emancipated. She just wants to be able to control her health. Will Juniper be able to win her case, and how will her parents react?
Strengths: I've had an increasing number of readers looking for high school romances, and I adored this one. The portrayal of an alternative lifestyle was fun, and Juniper's reaction to being homeschooled in the kitchen was perfect. The progress of her measles was realistic, and the tragedy fell within the bounds of possibility. The way she dealt with it also seemed realistic. Having the younger brother and sister was a good device, since they didn't struggle with "being normal" the way Juniper did. Nico is a great guy, and it's sweet how he invites Juniper into his geekdom. They get along so well, and there is no huge misunderstanding that puts them at odds for most of the book. I love the portrayal of his peanut and bee allergy-- it was a bit odd that he didn't show Juniper how to use his EpiPen right away. I've been at lunch with a total stranger (Hi, Matthew Winner!) who put his EpiPen on the table and asked the whole group if we knew what to do if he had a reaction! The grandparents are fantastic as well. I've been struggling to find motivation to read, but I finished this one right away. I'll have to investigate other titles by this author!
Weaknesses: There is one f-bomb, but it occurs when Nico is stung by a bee, and only once. This falls within my parameters of acceptable profanity for middle grade! The parents are absolutely horrible, but this also makes sense given the teen protagonist. I doubt that Juniper could have attended school events without permission slips being involved, and the legal events probably would have taken longer, but middle grade readers won't care too much.
What I really think: I feel like I should really break down all of the science about vaccines more carefully with this book, but honestly-- I just enjoyed it. (Some other reviewers on Goodreads did a great job, even mentioning some problems with the oils the mother sells being problematic.) Juniper and Nico were very sweet, Juniper's reaction to her parents in her teen years was very realistic, and I just appreciated that it was very clear that Vaccines Are Good and not getting vaccines is bad for society. Some people will not like this stance, and we are not allowed to call them idiots. I'm definitely purchasing. 
Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. This sounds terrific. I'm putting it on my TBR list. Thanks for the heads up.