Waiting for Normal
by Leslie Connor
Middle Grade Fiction
As soon as I met Addie, the protagonist of this book, I liked her. Her Mommers is complaining and being unreasonable about the trailer home they are moving into but Addie is noticing that hey, the steps leading up to the trailer are very sturdy, and the kitchen is sized perfectly for a 6th-grader, and by golly, she is a 6th grader, how perfect!
In this one small detail, we know that this is a girl who digs through the junk that life dishes out and finds gems, even if they are plastic gems. She loves her stepfather and two step sisters and longs to have a normal life with them yet feels a loyalty toward her indulgent and undisciplined mother. Addie takes her lot in stride, taking care of herself when Mommers stays away for days, leaving no money and hardly any food. And even when Mommers is around, it's Addie who does the cooking and cleaning and laundry for the two of them. She does all the work without complaining.
Until Mommers' ongoing shenanigans eventually cause enough resentment that Addie refuses to wash a pan her mother promised to take care of but never did. That sets off the Huge Event, where all the problems converge.
Despite Mommers' negligence, Addie isn't left completely alone, she has her neighbors at the minimart, a cranky grandfather, and a concerned stepfather. It seems there is an effort to include a representative from the groups most prejudiced against: for their sexuality, weight, and race.The effort just seems a little too conscientious and obvious.
On a similar vein, (of conscientious efforts) I don't know if the Horrible Illness and Subsequent Death are necessary. I've heard young readers talk about how the "important" books all seem to have someone die in them.
But these are minor complaints toward a story that, despite the dramatic elements, doesn't go overboard with the tearing of garments and the gnashing of teeth. The author doesn't spell out Addie's reactions and emotions, but gives us just enough so that we get it. It's watching a scene unfold from a distance without a talk-show host jabbing a mic into people's faces and asking them how the current events make them feel, and without the swelling of strings in the background. It's quiet and moving.
The writing is aimed at middle graders but there are big issues--such as abandonment, what doing the right thing means, relationships between adults--that some young readers may want to find out more and parents should be aware of.
A thoughtful, optimistic, and tender story.