A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt

A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dr. Villapando told me to get a good attorney. He wasn’t serious. But I am. I’m going to sue my parents.

Juniper Jade’s parents are hippies. They didn’t attend the first Woodstock, but they were there for the second one. The Jade family lives an all-organic homeschool lifestyle that means no plastics, no cell phones, and no vaccines. It isn’t exactly normal, but it’s the only thing Juniper has ever known. She doesn’t agree with her parents on everything, but she knows that to be in this family, you’ve got to stick to the rules. That is, until the unthinkable happens.

Juniper contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the disease along, with tragic consequences. She is shell-shocked. Juniper knows she is responsible and feels simultaneously helpless and furious at her parents, and herself.

Now, with the help of Nico, the boy who works at the library and loves movies and may just be more than a friend, Juniper comes to a decision: she is going to get vaccinated. Her parents refuse so Juniper arms herself with a lawyer and prepares for battle. But is waging war for her autonomy worth losing her family? How much is Juniper willing to risk for a shot at normal?

Nobody wants to catch a vaccine-preventable illness, but not everyone agrees on the best way to avoid it.

This story took a balanced but painfully honest approach to the question of why vaccines are such a crucial part of modern healthcare. I appreciated the fact that the perspectives of Juniper’s vehemently anti-vaccine parents was represented so fairly. They were depicted as well-rounded humans beings who loved their children and honestly thought they were doing the best thing for Juniper and her siblings. With that being said, the narrator also went into explicit detail about how heartbreaking and dangerous it can be when vaccine-preventable illnesses are allowed to circulate freely in a community.

As much as I liked both of the characters who fell in love during the course of this novel, the romantic subplot felt out of place. There were so many other important conflicts and moments of character development happening in the storyline that I think it would have made more sense to save this for a possible sequel. It wasn’t needed here in my opinion. I would have chosen a much higher rating if these scenes had been replaced with ones that explored the main themes in greater depth.

Speaking of character development, it was well done. This was especially true for Juniper who matured beautifully after her terrible experience with contracting the measles and dealing with the physical and social repercussions of this disease afterwards. She definitely still felt like a teenager to me by the final scene, but I also saw so many indications of the brave adult she was going to become soon.

A Shot at Normal was a thoughtful book I’d recommend to any teens who would like to explore this issue in depth.

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