A Shot at Normal

Farrar. Feb. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374380953.
Gr 8 Up–Juniper Jade’s white Southern California family eats only organic food, sells herbs at the farmer’s market, conducts school in their kitchen, makes their own Christmas presents, drives an old van that runs on vegetable oil, and doesn’t vaccinate. Most of these family quirks make home cozy and savory for 16-year-old Juniper. That is, until she contracts the measles—and inadvertently gives them to a baby, who dies. Wracked with guilt and wanting a normal teenage life, Juniper embarks on a journey to get herself vaccinated so that she doesn’t contract any more preventable diseases or do more community harm. Juniper’s parents, second-wave hippies who are set in their beliefs that vaccines are toxic, refuse to give her permission to get the shots. Juniper’s journey to bodily autonomy leads her to the library, where she meets the helpful Noah and his mom, who has an attorney friend who will do pro bono work to help her. Complementing the serious tone of the novel is Juniper’s burgeoning relationship with tan-skinned Noah, who becomes an almost too-good-to-be-true boyfriend. He also becomes her entree into normal teen life: football games, parties, film club, and friends. Told in a linear narrative from summer until spring, Juniper’s moral quandary and lived experiences fill vividly episodic and succinct chapters.
VERDICT As readers live with coronavirus and newfound knowledge of communicable disease, this timely novel deftly explores issues of vaccination, misinformation, how personal medical choices can affect others, and the time-tested theme of belonging outside of the family unit.

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