Hey friends! Today I’m coming at you with a review of Marisa Reichardt’s latest, “A Shot At Normal” (02/16/2021). An eARC of this was provided to me by Macmillan via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Continue reading below for a synopsis of the book and my thoughts. Enjoy!
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?
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.
We are almost a year into COVID quarantine and up until recently, I hadn’t really delved into any quarantine, vaccination, etc. stories. I didn’t want to. Books and visual media is an escape for me, and I didn’t want to read about anything having to do with what we have been facing.
As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even aware of the plot of “A Shot At Normal” and that it would take on the subject of vaccinations. I went into this book totally blind, only knowing the title when I began reading my eARC of it. And I’m glad it happened that way.
The plot, once I got into it, was a really interesting concept. What would it be like to be the child of parents who made the choice not to vaccinate you? And now that you are a teenager, old enough to understand what that means, would you agree with the choice your parents made?
“A Shot At Normal” explores these questions in an honest and real way. One of my favorite aspects of this book, was its exploration of the various sides of the conversation when it comes to anti-vaxxers. Juniper, our main character, doesn’t agree with the choice her parents made in not vaccinating her and her siblings. We see her frustration towards her parents. We see her parents frustration (and hypocrisy) towards Juniper for questioning them and the community that turns on them. We see the extremes a community will go to when they feel threatened. “A Shot At Normal” has a strong message to get your kids vaccinated, but I do think it does a good job of presenting both sides.
I really enjoyed Juniper as our narrator. She’s kind and smart and a really cool 16-year-old. I was rooting for her throughout the entire book. Being in her shoes took me right back to being a teenager and so rarely having a voice amongst people who think they know what’s best for you. I don’t think I’ve read any books where the main character has an actual legal fight for bodily autonomy, and therefore Juniper will forever be ingrained into my mind and heart.
Nico was a really cool love interest and I really enjoyed every time he popped up. He is honestly the definition of boyfriend material/goals. I mean, minor spoiler here, but he LITERALLY drives a golf cart of pumpkins to Juniper’s house so she and her family can carve them. Um, literally my dream?
Juniper’s parents are as much a main character as she is, and I can’t express to you just how much they frustrated me — which I guess is a sign of how good the the writing here is, because how frustrated I became with Juniper’s parents, is exactly how frustrated I become with real life anti-vaxxers. They constantly spew the same fallacies at Juniper when she asks why she can’t get vaccinated. They don’t acknowledge their privilege. They don’t care about those around them. And they punish Juniper for doing exactly what they’ve taught her to do her entire life: think for herself. I truly couldn’t stand reading about them and by the end of the book, they weren’t redeemed in my eyes and remain unforgiven.
Overall, I enjoyed “A Shot At Normal.” It had characters I loved (and hated), and had an honest and unflinching take on vaccinations and bodily autonomy for those under 18. It also conveyed the message of fighting for what you believe in, even when it may seem impossible, in a relevant and powerful way.
★★★★☆ = Excellent
About Marisa Reichardt
Marisa Reichardt is the critically acclaimed author of the YA novels UNDERWATER, AFTERSHOCKS (2020), and A SHOT AT NORMAL (2021). She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual degrees in English & American Literature and Creative Writing from UC San Diego. Before becoming a published author, Marisa worked in academic publications, tutored high school students in writing, and shucked oysters. These days, you can probably find her huddled over her laptop in a coffeehouse or swimming in the ocean.