A Shot At Normal – Marisa Reichardt – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 16 February 2021
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?
A Shot At Normal is a really intriguing novel and totally thought-provoking. It raises the issue of vaccinations, anti-vaccinations and the teenagers caught in the middle. Set against the backdrop of a loving family and a new and sweet romance, A Shot At Normal is a story about growing up, learning to make tough decisions and standing up for what you believe in.
Juniper wants to be normal. She’d give anything to attend high school like normal teens instead of being homeschooled with her younger siblings. She’d love to join a school team, make friends or get a job. None of that is possible, as she has never had the required vaccinations. Not that her alternative parents would every let her. When Juniper contracts the measles, she realises the consequences for not being vaccinated are far more serious than not being allowed to attend school and she must decide how far she wants to go to fight for her right to have the immunisation injections.
This novel is presented as clearly pro vaccinations. I thought maybe there would be more deliberating and weighing backwards and forwards, but once Juniper learns about the consequences of not being vaccinated, she very firmly becomes pro vaccinations. As a result of her contracting and spreading the measles, Juniper is faced with a whole lot of guilt and grief, as well as the negative response from the towns people.
This novel also doesn’t delve too deeply into the arguments for and against. Some are mentioned, others are cited or referred to being debunked, but really this book is about the consequences of the decisions made, rather than focusing on the decision making and research itself. It is also about Juniper standing up for what she believes in. It is a huge risk for her to take on her parents. As she learns, she stands to lose everyone she loves and life as she knows it, yet she believes the benefits far outweigh these risks.
The ending is clear in some ways but also left a little open. What will happen to Juniper in the future? Did her relationship with her parents survive? The reader is only given hints. It makes it the perfect topic for discussion – do you think she made the right decision? Do you think she thinks she made the right decision?
Another excellent decision made by the author was to contrast the vaccination decisions and consequences against a really beautiful and loving family. Juniper may not agree with her parents, but she loves them. And she agrees with them on other issues. This makes her decision to sue them so much harder and more complicated. It also raises another great discussion point – should she have waited until she was older or was it right for her to take on her parents?
There is a sweet romance story that sits in the background of the book, but what I really loved was the focus on Juniper learning to use her voice and stand up for her rights.
This compelling book was easy to read and easy to thoroughly enjoy. It would make for a perfect book club title and provoke much discussion, especially given the current climate around immunisation and vaccines.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction
Themes: Family, immunisations, vaccines, measles, death, grief, guilt, rights, litigation.
Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.
Advisory: Death of a baby, illness. Infrequent coarse language, f*** (1), sh** (10), as***** (2).
Published: 16 February 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 352 pages.