A Shot at Normal / Marisa Reichardt / Book Review


Juniper Jade lives what one might call an "alternative" lifestyle. Born to second-wave hippy parents--who went to 1994 Woodstock, not the real-deal back in the day--Juniper lives an organic, radiation-free, and vaccine-free life. Homeschooled with her younger siblings, Juniper can't help but feel like she's missing out on something important: a normal teenage experience.

But Juniper doesn't fully understand the consequences of her parents' alternative lifestyle until she gets sick with a preventable disease and ends up passing this disease on to others. When this outbreak of measles has terrible consequences in their small California town, Juniper is horrified. She doesn't want to get sick again--and she definitely doesn't want to get others sick.

But no matter how much Juniper argues, her parents aren't swayed. So Juniper makes a difficult choice: go to court to sue her parents for her right to be vaccinated, whatever the consequences.



Timely Narrative A very topic-driven novel, this book is perhaps no more timely than it is right at this moment, with a world in the midst of pandemic and a vaccine newly arrived on the scene. Having the perspective of an unvaccinated child represented in this book is both new and important--especially when that child loves and respects her parents, even if she doesn't agree with their choices. It is nice to see a character taking a stand for herself and her rights even while she still loves those who would deny her.

New Twist on Old Plot A lot of contemporary YA revolves around some sort of "normal" drama. It seems that a lot of the adults writing for teenagers assume that "I want to be normal" is one of the strongest motivators for teenage drama, and so the plotline is undoubtedly a trope. Here, however, Juniper is not some geeky girl looking to fit in with the "It" crowd at school. She is, decidedly, not normal as far as her upbringing is concerned. To have a character who, by general consensus, falls outside of the range of "normal" brings new life to a tried-and-true YA plot.

Mob Mentality Not only does Marisa Reichardt tackle a timely topic, she weaves into the narrative the imminent danger of mob mentality. With the ongoing global pandemic, it has been more and more common to see public shaming from all sides--shaming of those who don't comply with restrictions, shaming of those who do comply with restrictions, et cetera. The world climate at the moment is divisive, and seeing how this sort of mob mentality can be taken out on the wrong people--and irrevocably injure the victims at hand--is a startling reminder to pull back from the emotion and the drama every now and again to take stock and focus on the issue really at hand.


Juniper's turnaround is too quick. Sure, she starts out already dissatisfied with the hippie-dippie lifestyle of her parents, but I don't think that should lead to her immediate rage upon getting sick. This novel doesn't leave time for Juniper to wrestle with what happened to her. She doesn't process. She doesn't evolve from dissatisfaction to rage. She simply jumps from one to the other, and this dramatic emotional leap makes the plot feel a little too melodramatic and agenda-driven. Quick Turnaround

As much as I like the idea, the movie club in this book just doesn't feel realistic. It is a fun way to introduce Juniper to other teenagers, other opinions, and pop culture, but it seems unlikely that someone outside of the school could just casually waltz in for a movie club meeting. I guess that's necessary for the plot, however, and perhaps ultimately forgivable. What isn't forgivable, as far as realism goes, is the fact that the club seems to watch movies indiscriminately. What high school would be allowed to show Stand By Me at all, let alone without a permission slip? This movie is rated R--that is, generally advisable for ages 17+, an age group that excludes most high schoolers. I understand that the film-buff-pop-culture dynamic is important to the plot, but this doesn't seem realistic at all. Movie Club

With a plot ultimately driven by a controversial topic, this is the type of book where one would expect the author to take a stance. In fact, the author needs to take a stance for the book to be compelling, even if not everyone agrees with the conclusion. Though Juniper takes a stance for vaccines, the authorial voice does not. The parents, as far as vaccination goes, are entirely too sympathetic. Though they are portrayed as the "bad guys," they are only portrayed thus as far as rejecting Juniper's decisions for her body. They don't respect Juniper's desire to live differently, and that makes them bad parents. Their stance on vaccines isn't in question. They are also so extremely against Juniper branching out that they seem unreasonable. They don't take the time to discuss and listen (and ultimately disagree), and that just doesn't feel believable. Parents who would give their child the silent treatment for any reason feel immature in the extreme. They are comically hyperbolic. On a related note, naming a petition-signing pro-vaxxer "Karen" feels like it might be an authorial stance in the wrong direction. Nobody wants to associate with a "Karen," even if the reason her Karen Klaws are out ends up being pro-vaccine. No Hard Stance



Fans of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper will be interested in this new fight for medical emancipation. Those who enjoy diving into unfortunately "alternative" lifestyles such as the one in Amy Christine Parker's Gated should take a look at this slightly-less-than-cult-y way of living.


Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Date: February 16, 2021
Series: N/A
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Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.


  1. Thanks for the thorough review. I love to read and always check out reviews.


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