Chasing Normal by Lisa Papademetriou

Page 3: The twelve year old narrator of this story, Mieka, finds out that her grandmother, the paternal one that she’s never met, is sick, and she and her father are going to Houston for a three week visit.

Immediately, my radar kicked in. I live in Houston. I hate movies and books about Houston and about Texas in which it’s obvious that the author or director never set foot in the state or didn’t pay much attention when she did. I turned to back of the book and read that the author lives with her husband in Massachusetts. Bad sign. So, the first thing I’m looking at as I read is whether or not Ms. Papademetriou got Houston right:

Check one, Houston IS hot, and walking outside in the summer does feel like getting “smacked in the face by a solid mass of heat.”

Check two, the teenage girls do wear flip-flops and tankinis, and lots of people have a swimming pool in the backyard.

Check three, Camp Franklin sounds just like an Episcopalian day camp would be with Bible stories and skits and art projects and team-building challenges and singing repetitive choruses.

Check four, Houston does have huge cockroaches that actually fly short distances, and it is disgusting.

Check five, the place names are right, The Galleria, River Oaks.

Check six, people in Houston do deal with the heat “mostly by never going outside.” And “everything is drive-through.”

So, I was so worried about whether or not the author would get Houston right, and then when the cousins in the story ended up in the church day camp, whether or not the author would get church right, that I almost missed the story. The story was about being real and kind at the same time, and of course all of the Texans in the story were rich, hypocritical, and materialistic. I say “of course” because in addition to being concerned about how Texas is portrayed in fiction, I’m also a bit defensive about how Texans come across in fiction, too. I have a theory that the bragging that we Texans are famous for is really an inferiority complex that we have as a result of so much misunderstanding and bad press directed at us from the East Coast and the West Coast. Not all Texans are rich. Most of us can’t afford to shop at the Galleria. And we’re no more fake and materialistic than the rest of the country. (Although people who live in River Oaks might be a little on the rich, spoiled, shopaholic side. 🙂

We all come to stories with our own preconceptions, prejudices, and defense mechanisms. I’ll have to admit that I got so lost in mine that I’m not sure how good or not this children’s fiction novel is. I thought it had some good moments, such as when Mieka makes a special bowl in art class at the day camp. But it all felt a little too predictable to me. Spoilers here if you haven’t read the book, but I knew that Mieka’s cousin Greta would turn out to be O.K. underneath all the fake perfection. And I knew Mieka’s dad wouldn’t take the job in Houston and betray his artistic calling. And I knew cousin Mark wasn’t really a genius.

Nice try, but it really didn’t stand up to the Houston heat as far as I’m concerned. Let me know if you read it and review it and like it better.

4 thoughts on “Chasing Normal by Lisa Papademetriou

  1. No, you’re right. This book had some really good ideas, but the execution was a little off. I just didn’t care as much as I probably should have about any of the characters.

  2. Hi, Sherry.

    Sorry you didn’t like the book! But I just wanted to let you know that–although I live in Massachusetts *now*–I was born and raised in Houston. (I grew up in West U., and my mother still lives in Houston.) I think that if you take another look at the book, you’ll see that the purpose wasn’t to stereotype people from my home state. Anyway! Thank you for the many nice things you’ve said here, in spite of the fact that it didn’t really work for you.

    All best,

  3. Oh! Also, my next book–Accidentally Fabulous–is also set in Houston. It’s due out next month, and I hope you like it better!

  4. I live in the DC suburbs and know exactly what you’re talking about. But what hit it on the head for me was your comment about spending so much time critiquing the book you almost missed the novel. Boy! I do that way too much.

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