Country brother, city brother

Title: Steering Toward Normalsteering

Author: Rebecca Petruck

Publisher & Release Date: Amulet Books, May 13

The Hook: Honestly, the cover sucked me in right from the start – and it actually gives a great snapshot of the family tensions inside: two half-brothers who aren’t necessarily loving the new situation, but still with a little cheeky humor.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “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.”

Overall Impressions: The boys have parallel abandonment issues: Diggy’s mother left him as an infant on Pop’s doorstep and then left town on a tractor, the ignominious mode of travel just salting the wound; and Wayne has lost both his mother and then very shortly after the man that he thought was his father, who in an alcoholic rage also dropped Wayne on Pop’s doorstep. Wayne’s obsession with Diggy’s mom, who’s never returned or contact her son, is a constant sore spot between the two of them – neither boy truly understanding why the other feels like they do. There’s a blowup at the end that makes things clearer, but Petruck does a great job of showing how time and perseverance is the biggest factor in healing tempers and family problems. Nearly a year passes as the boys and their respective families fight, find common ground, and deal with life as it comes.

The Highs: Petruck does an excellent job of creating a believable set of characters with very human problems and setbacks. The inclusion of the steer raising details and even rocket-building were interesting without being an info dump; it tied everything together really well in building the relationship – and tension – between Diggy and Wayne. Diggy gets to be the knowledgeable one in teaching the less farm-savvy Wayne, but when Wayne starts to succeed on his own (and attract July’s attention) Diggy starts having second thoughts. Their final competition, and Diggy’s crush on July, were resolved in a way that made total sense – not quite a happy ending, but one that will leave readers happy and rooting for them in the future. 

Buzzkills: By the end, I still was concerned about the level of rage that Mr. Graf exhibited even when he was sober. He finished on better terms with Wayne and his in-laws, but I kept thinking that Pop should be making regular visits to the Graf house to make sure that his son is safe. There was a lot of story on the parents’ side that we didn’t see much of, though, so maybe it’s implied that he went to some sort of counseling.

The Source: Galley from publisher.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor hay was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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