Booktalks

Far From Normal Booktalk

  • Grades: 6–8

Charlie's family doesn't live in Normal, Illinois anymore, but they are still as far from normal as they have ever been.

My family didn't live in Normal, Illinois anymore, but we still weren't normal. And what happened to us between my fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays wasn't even close to normal. After we left Normal, we lived on a houseboat for a few years, until my dad got a steady job working construction, and put the boat in dry dock so he could make a lot of repairs on it. My mom was going to keep homeschooling us, but Ben and Laura and Sally, my little brother and sisters, wanted to go to a "real" school, so she enrolled them in Judge Roy Bean Elementary. Clara, my older sister, didn't want to go to high school, and I didn't want to go to junior high, so Mom said she'd keep homeschooling us. 

Maybe if the little kids hadn't gone to that school, and Ben hadn't made friends with Dylan Goodman, whose family was really rich, we'd have ended up back on the houseboat a year later, just like we expected to. But he did, and then I made friends with his father, Charles. And when Charles heard about our story, how we left Normal in the middle of the night and ended up living on a houseboat, travelling around, he told me that if I wanted to be a writer, and I did, that was the story I should tell.  So I wrote it all down, and he published it in Modern Times, his magazine. It was the cover story, and it included everything that happened to us, including the trips to Bargain Bonanza that we all hated, because everything there was cheap. I got $1200 for my story, and my parents got a lawsuit. 

Bargain Bonanza claimed that their sales had dropped because of my story, and was filing for damages. It was ridiculous, since we didn't have any money, but their lawyers were serious. And when they found out Dad hadn't always told the IRS about the money he'd gotten when people paid him cash for the odd jobs he did for them, they got mean on top of serious. That's how we ended up becoming the SpokesFamily for Bargain Bonanza, having our faces and names on all their merchandise, appearing in TV commercials and print ads, and finally ending up in a movie and a TV show about us. 

Before we really knew what was going on, it was out of control, and we were all being forced to do things we didn't want to do. And there was no way out of it-Mom and Dad had signed contracts, and they were iron-clad. Bargain Bonanza was making enormous profits, and we belonged to them now. We were a household name, everyone in the world loved us, wanted to be us, except us. And if we couldn't find a way out of the trap, we'd end up losing us.

This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian, and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.

 

  • Subjects:
    Challenges and Overcoming Obstacles, Homelessness and Poverty
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