Books for Ages 8-10: Halfway Normal by Barbara Dee

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Dee, Barbara (2017). Halfway Normal. New York, NY: Aladdin.

ISBN: 9781481478526 

272 pages. 

Norah Levy is twelve years old, and she’s finally going back to school after being successfully treated for leukemia. Her experience with illness took her away from her friends for all of sixth grade, and now, at the start of seventh, she’s returning to an environment full of germs, loud noises, and other kids—who she isn’t even sure she really knows any more. Her best friend rarely visited her in the hospital, and now most of the seventh grade treats her like she’s an alien, since they know she had cancer. At the same time, her parents are always fighting with each other, and Norah’s mom might be moving away to California now that she doesn’t have to stay to help Norah get better. Norah finds comfort in drawing monsters with the one new boy in her math class who doesn’t know who she was last year—the Sick Girl—but between friend drama and fear of losing her mom to a new job somewhere far away, the future looks dismal. 

Barbara Dee captures what it feels like to be smart, alienated, and alone, and at the same time gives readers a window into the experiences of a central protagonist recovering from a very specific long illness nobody around her understands and which readers might be afraid to ask questions about. The way Norah’s body fails her at times, her determination to stand up to her parents and find ways around the intense rules they’ve set up to try to keep her safe, and the comfort she finds in art and stories that allow her to escape, make for a realistic picture of sickness and recovery. Over the course of the story, Norah learns to assert herself more and more and communicate effectively with her friends and her parents.  Illness and disability is rightfully treated by the story as something that isn’t necessarily a tragedy, just one of life’s many possible difficult struggles—and something that can help make who you are. 

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