Saturday, August 8, 2015
Book Review: Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck
This book has such an appealing jacket that I bought it even though I was not as bowled over by the premise of a story of two eighth-grade boys on a farm, raising steers in Minnesota. I'm very glad I judged this book by its cover!
Diggy is growing up on a farm with his father, Pop, and he has just bought a new young steer, Joker, which he planned to compete at the county and state fairs through 4-H. One day, a man from town drove onto the farm, and pushed his teenage boy out of his truck with a suitcase. It was Wayne Graf. Mrs. Graf had been Diggy's favorite elementary school teacher but she'd died of cancer the month before. Mr. Graf wasn't coping very well. And he said that Pop was Wayne's real father.
This book takes place over the course of one full year. Throughout, Mr. Graf wavers back and forth about wanting Wayne back, and understanding Wayne was better off, at least in the short term, with Pop. Diggy is furious about Wayne usurping his life (they're even in the same grade at school.) Wayne even wants a steer to compete against Diggy. And then when Wayne starts to pry into the whereabouts of Diggy's mother, who left him on Pop's doorstep when he was a baby and was so desperate to get away, when her car wouldn't start, she drove away on Pop's tractor, becoming the town joke.
Both Diggy and Wayne learn a lot, grow up a lot, and have a rough yet important year together. Meanwhile we readers learn a lot about raising steers, about 4-H clubs, and about some of the benefits of living on a modern farm. Diggy is a compelling lead character at a rough transition in his life, when suddenly faced with watching his new half-brother go through an even rougher transition. He is realistically drawn and easy to empathize with. The juxtaposition of the two missing mothers was a nice touch, showing how different kinds of loss can have different grieving reactions. And the book shows how families don't all look like the conventional stereotype. Sometimes a family is two half brothers and two fathers and two steers. I admit, I got teary at the end, as one pretty much is always guaranteed with any book involving animals. It is an important book, just on the boundary between Middle Grade and Young Adult, showing a different kind of teenage life than most American teenagers learn about, and yet one as normal as the flag and apple pie.
This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.
I bought this book at Bibliofeast from Park Road Books, two years ago.