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Aeicha @ Word Spelunking

Thursday, March 6, 2014

(MMGM) Rebecca Petruck, author of Steering Toward Normal {Review, Interview, Giveaway}

I'm excited to have Rebecca Petruck stopping by the March MG Madness today to chat about her book Steering Toward Normal! Plus, you can read my review and enter to win a copy... 

Steering Toward Normal
by Rebecca Petruck

Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: He’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of July, the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light the secret that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother, who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances at the State Fair, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.
What started out great quickly turns into the worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their steers, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and change their concept of family as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

Rebecca Petruck’s Steering Toward Normal is a fun coming of age middle-grade contemp with a lot of heart, humor, and cow poop! With two different, yet likable male leads, and a world I’ve never ventured into before (go 4-H Club!), Steering Toward Normal captured and amused me greatly!

13 year old Diggy has big plans for his eighth-grade year: he’s picked out a great calf to raise and compete with in the next State Fair, he gets to see his crush, July, at 4-H meetings, and he and his dad, Pop, have plenty of pranks to  pull on one another. But then everything changes when Mrs. Graf dies and her son, Wayne, one of Diggy’s classmates, turns out to be Pop’s son too. A distraught and alcoholic Mr. Graf kicks Wayne out and sends him to live with Diggy and Pop. Wayne disrupts Diggy’s easy life and big plans, but with the help of some steers, bad movies, and epic pranks, the two slowly learn to be brothers.

I may live in NC, but I’m no country girl (just the thought of cow poop makes me grimace) and I’ve never set foot into a 4-H club or State Fair animal competition, but after reading Steering Toward Normal, I’d love to attend both! This heartfelt and honest story is full of lots of laughs, sincere characters, and a vast amount of info about a topic I never knew I’d actually enjoy and find interesting: raising steer for competition.

Told through an endearing and entertaining middle-grade voice, Steering Toward Normal captures adolescence and all its bumpy obstacles wonderfully! While still appropriate for its intended audience, this book doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff (alcoholism, heartbreaking crushes, grief, discovering your parents aren’t all-knowing perfect people, etc), and Petruck explores these things with the complexity, depth, and realism they deserve. But I like that, even though the characters experience some really tough stuff, the book’s tone never gets dark; there’s always a sense of liveliness and hope within the pages!

Diggy and Wayne are both endearing, genuine characters, and I really liked them as individuals and as a brotherly pair. Diggy, especially, was a lot of fun to get to know and I greatly enjoyed his funny, frank perspective. Petruck’s adult characters are also carefully crafted and feel refreshingly real and believably flawed.

The world of 4-H clubs and animal raising/competing was completely new to me, but luckily Petruck clearly knows her stuff! I learned a lot about this apparently popular world and was surprised by how fascinated by it all I actually was. Petruck does a beautiful job of showing how Diggy and Wayne’s emotional journey and journey to the State Fair are integral to and affect one another.

My Final Thoughts: I never imagined a book filled with silly pranks, cow poop, and TLCC (tender loving cow care) could entertain and move me so much, but Steering Toward Normal has done just that!


What three words best describe Steering Toward Normal?
Brothers, cows, poop. 
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers, especially reluctant readers, to give Steering Toward Normal a try?
When eighth-grade classmates discover they are half brothers, the poop flies (for real—there are cows).
Grab a copy of Steering Toward Normal and answer the following:
favorite chapter? Thirty-four, the last one. It can still make me cry, in a good way.
favorite page? 310, when Joker rodeos at the Minnesota State Fair.
favorite prank pulled in the book? Oh, the big one. Definitely. The police officer cracks me up every time.
flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser?
Wayne snorted. “I should have known you’d blow it in the end. You’ve spent more time socializing than working.”
“You can’t pre-poop the cow,” Diggy said. 
What inspired Steering Toward Normal? How did the story come to be?
A photograph of two boys posed as if they were tough, but whose adolescent bodies betrayed their innocence. Though they were about the same age, I came to think of them as brothers and started wondering how that might have happened and what that would mean for them.
It took me a while to find my way to the steers. I started with dairy cows (all that milk to deal with!) then fancy chickens (fun but too frou-frou for Diggy and Wayne), and finally stumbled on show steers. I fell for the competitors I interviewed. They all were very sincere in saying it’s better not to get too attached to the steers, while being very clearly attached to their steers.
There are some memorable characters in Steering Toward Normal, do you have a favorite? What do you love about him/her? Did any of your characters end up surprising even you with the way they turned out?
Though he pretends he’s all tough, Diggy’s got a big heart. I’m a sucker for kids who don’t think the hearts on their sleeves show.
I also really love Aunt Em. As a character, she came out of nowhere and is bus-stealing awesome. I have an Aunt Em in real life and hope she’s pleased with her doppelganger.
Diggy and Pop pull some pretty funny and epic pranks on each other in Steering Toward Normal...what’s the funniest prank you’ve pulled and/or that has been pulled on you?
The problem with pranking people is you get to be known as a prankster, so after a while my most devious pranks were non-pranks. With everyone on high alert on April Fool’s Day, all I had to do was make a suggestive comment or sound a little too innocent, and suddenly no one wants to eat the special cake I made or go into the other room. That’s power in its purest form! Mwah, hah, hah!
As a middle-grade author, why do you think middle-grade is so important? What do you love about writing and reading middle-grade?
Middle grade kids are on the cusp, making that transition from the fairly insular world of their families to realizing they are part of the larger world, too, and deciding what kind of people they want to be in it. It’s tumultuous, embarrassing, frightening, exhilarating, inspiring, embarrassing—uh, did I say that twice?
Middle grade are also the years when decisions begin to have more impact with greater repercussions. Good role models are vital, and books have always been a source of positive role models for me.
What is your all-time favorite middle-grade book, middle-grade hero, and middle-grade heroine?
Hard questions! After this, I totally want that cupcake from question ten.
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley has been on my shelf pretty much my entire reading life.
Favorite hero is Conor from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Conor stares deep into the dark night of his soul and survives. The book wrecked me and inspired me in equal measure.
Favorite heroine is Calpurnia Tate from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. She’s another one of those kids I love, a good kid faced with a difficult situation, who finds a way to be true to herself without hurting others.
Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at assembly. Give me instructions and I can put together an IKEA desk, fold any origami shape, and cook a great recipe.
I’m really embarrassed to admit that I color coordinate bookmarks with my books. I save paint chips from Home Depot then carefully choose a color to go with the book I’m reading. Not necessarily matching; often, the right contrasting color makes a better effect. And, yes, I spend too much time thinking about it.
The last great book I read was (Another one? Gah. These questions are so hard.) Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera is gentle and kind and a little brutal and true. Also, the vocab lists work so beautifully within the story.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Steering Toward Normal, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
The cupcake would look like a pie. It would not be chocolate because that’s what everyone would expect for a book that includes cow pies. It would be an unexpected color inside—maybe light blue—that tastes like hazelnuts, something earthy like that. And when you bite into the middle, you would find a surprise like a yeti figurine. It would be called Prankake, and never be the same thing twice.

Thanks so much, Rebecca, for stopping by today to chat!

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association "New Voices" top ten children's debut and will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 2014. You may visit her online at

Win 1 of 10 copies of 
Steering Toward Normal!
The fabby fab folks at Abrams have donated ten copies for ten winners.
-US only
-ends 3/31
-must be 13+, one main entry per person
-winners will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-all entrant emails will be collected by Abrams. By entering the giveaway, you are subscribing to the Abrams Kids eNwsletter. As a subscriber, you'll be the first to know about new titles, upcoming author events, just released videos, teaching guides, exclusive giveaways and so much more!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, and for the wonderful review! May your day be filled with cupcakes.

Bluh said...

Great review and Interview! Rebecca, thanks for the shout-out! And for anyone wondering whether to put STN on their to- read list, I'll help you out: the answer is yes.

Also, I'm glad that a chapter that made me tear up makes Rebecca cry, too! I'll never look at cows the same again.

Anonymous said...

I'm impatiently waiting on the library to have copies of this book.
Congratulations on your debut!

Brenda said...

Sounds like a great book filled with pranks and humor, wonderful interview and review.

Unknown said...

This book flings me back to the days when I would help my neighbor with her steer, Chachi. He'd get bathed almost every day and brushed constantly. He was friendly and loved, and I couldn't bear the thought of him becoming someone's freezer full of beef. I distanced myself from Chachi as the summer wore on so I wouldn't get too attached.

Jocelyn Rish said...

What a great review and interview! Steering Toward Normal a fun book that punches you right in the feels, and I wasn't able to eat steak for weeks after reading it.

Jillyn said...

This sounds like a great book. Even though it's not the main plot, I'm a sucker for all things fair & carnival related, so I know I'll have to check this one out.

Kirsten! said...

I never thought I'd be excited to read a book about cows. But man, this sounds fabulous (also the author questions reminded me just how much I neeeeed to finally get around to The Blue Sword, it's pretty embarrassing that I've put it off this long)

Unknown said...

Cows are one of my favorite animals and I love to read MG books like this! I saw this for the first time a few weeks ago and he cover made me smile and I knew I just had to read it! Thanks for such a generous giveaway!

Charlotte said...

This wasn't a book I would have naturally gravitated toward, but I will look for it now!

alicia marie said...

Thanks for the great review! I'll definitely be adding this one to my list :)

Michelle @ In Libris Veritas said...

This book sounds wonderful! I'm so glad that you do this MG Madness month because I would overlook so many of these great books had I not seen them here.

Jill the OWL said...

Sounds great! And honestly it has a cow on the cover sticking out its tongue. How could I not be interested in it???

Unknown said...

(This is Darith L)

SOunds great! I'd love to win! :D

Stitchin in the Sip said...

A great idea for a book geared toward boys. There are several books written for girls and how to adapt to changes in family dynamics. Not many books written for boys.

Orchid said...

Another middle grade book about siblings, this time newly discovered brothers, well now this is something I must read.

Seriously enjoying seeing all of your middle grade reviews.

Very cool that the author, Rebecca, is a fan of Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. That just happens to be one of my favorite books.

anne s. said...

i keep hearing about your book! would LOVE for an opportunity to win it. thanks for the giveaway!