Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Quirks: Welcome to Normal by Erin Soderberg

The start of this book reminded me of "Savvy" with the Quirk family having superpower abilities that make it difficult for them to live a normal life. The Quirks live in the town of Normal where people live in identical houses and drive identical cars. What looked like a tall tale turns into a story of people with magical powers trying to live normal lives and fit in with other kids at school. As the story unfolds it loses the tall tale feel and focuses on magic and fitting in. A fun read that is good for grades 3 & 4.

Molly, the protagonist, is always trying to keep her family together. Her twin sister Penelope has so much magic, called a "Quirk," that whenever she imagines something it comes into existence. This causes all sorts of trouble and their mom ends up using her Quirk, which is the power of persuasion, to talk people out of believing what magic they just saw Penelope accidentally perform. Grandpa can rewind time, but Molly has no magic. Finn, the kindergartener, is invisible except to Molly who feels responsible for him since only see can see him. The father abandoned the family. This subplot isn't explored much - maybe questions will be answered in the sequels. This is the first book in a series.

Kids will like the constant silliness and pranks that Finn does to others. I got tired of them toward the end because he was crossing the line and hurting people. He dunks Charlie to the point that he needs to be rescued and he causes havoc at school because he is bored. If you want to discuss with a child how to not behave, Finn's behavior will give you plenty to talk about. If you want to live vicariously through a character doing pranks that you'd never have the guts nor ability to carry out, then you'll enjoy Finn. He's kind of endearing in a gross, self-centered and spoiled way.

The plot is simple and straightforward making the story easy to follow. The characters are not complex either. Molly seems to feel responsible for her family as if she is taking the place of her father, but I'm not sure of her motivations for being responsible for everyone else. If she's not fixing her sister, she's watching Finn like a mother or keeping an eye on grandpa.  Her twin, Penelope, is a bit mopey and insecure for someone with amazing powers. I got tired of Penelope's defeatist attitude, although it sets up for a nice message at the end about believing in oneself and thinking positively not negatively. The mom has the power of persuasion, but waitresses which didn't make sense since she's the breadwinner. Actually a few things didn't jive such as Finn being allowed to chew gum at school as a five-year-old. Or a sleepover party where the girls order mushrooms on the pizza. Neither of those things would ever happen. Finn's voice was too old at times too. The grandma is not developed as a minor character. She's a fairy godmother and hides out after being traumatized as the family fled from the previous town. She never speaks in this book but appears at the end in a way that I think she'll have a voice and part to play in the next book, " The Quirks in Circus Quirkus."

The start of the book describes the people of Normal as driving the same cars, living in identical houses, and sending the Quirks the same welcoming gift. This changes later and the reader will see that people have differences at school, how they dress, and how they celebrate a yearly event. I thought the beginning exaggeration of the town funny that would lead to the people being presented as caricatures of extreme conformity; thus acting as a foil to the Quirks odd ways. This doesn't happen and town life is depicted more realistic than I expected from the setup.

When the town has their "Normal Night" celebration where they try to break a world record by doing something really odd, it is evident that they really are not normal. I expected one of the author's messages to be celebrating individuality, but it is about fitting in and conforming in society. The Quirks want to lead a normal life. They are tired of moving and tired of the stress that comes from learning to manage their Quirks. Even the adults have difficulties managing their superpowers. The twins are trying to make friends at school while Finn is resisting the attempts to civilize him in every way possible. While I liked the start, the middle part slowed a bit, and the end picked up. A good story for kids that are new at school and trying to fit in.

3 Smileys

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