Marisa Reichardt’s A Shot at Normal is a powerful and timely novel about justice, agency, family, and taking your shot, even when it seems impossible.
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?
Now that the new school year has started and my parents have reached out to other local homeschoolers to plan field trips, I’m hoping I’ll make some new friends.
Until then, I’ll remain on the outside looking in.
Like this morning, in my room, where I spent from seven forty-fi ve to eight a.m. watching through the window as bright yellow buses pulled up to the curb in front of Playa Bonita High School. The bus doors opened and students spilled onto the sidewalk. Others rode up on bikes and skateboards. The older ones, the juniors and seniors, arrived in cars crammed with passengers, two in the front seat and three in the back. Everyone wore shorts or sundresses, because it’s still the last week of August and the heat of summer hasn’t let go of this town yet.
I could feel that heat in my armpits and the sweat marks collecting along the edges of my tank top when I woke up. I slathered on deodorant from the half- empty mason jar on my dresser like I do every morning. It’s sticky and lumpy and leaves behind a white, oily residue that stains my shirts. I’ve asked my mom for real deodorant. Or at least something from the natural health section at Whole Foods.
“Tapioca starch and coconut oil take care of things fine,” she says. I’m sure that’s not true, because if I notice the stink of my mom’s BO, then surely I have it, too.
The girls at PBHS probably smell like strawberries and freedom. I bet they spent all morning soaking themselves in those scented body washes from that store at the mall that always smells like a fruit stand. I also bet my mom can recite the exact paraben levels in each bottle. Because that store, like the mall itself, is not a place my parents would ever let me spend money.
That’s why those girls across the street are there and I’m here. The chemicals and the toxins and the mercury levels and the melting ozone layer made my parents take a big step back from the real world. Everything from our deodorant to our food to our cleaning products to our furniture is organic. Important things, I know. But there’s such a thing as too much. My parents are rabid in their beliefs.
“Organic isn’t what’s new. It’s what’s old,” my mom says proudly. “We’re original.”
She operates in a rose- colored version of history, which is also why my sister, my brother, and I don’t get vaccinated. This makes us ineligible to enroll in schools in California. Not that I haven’t tried. When we moved, I thought maybe this was finally it. The public high school was right across the street. I’d practically still be at home. I begged to go. But couple the strict California vaccination requirements with the fact that my parents think homeschooling creates lifelong learners as opposed to kids who simply regurgitate multiple- choice information for state tests, and it was easy for them to say no. “We decide what goes into our children’s bodies and minds,” they said. So here I sit at the kitchen table, digging into my putrid pancakes, trying to figure out if selling baled herbs and essential oils this summer made me a better person.
My guess is no.
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