“God, please let us be a normal family with a normal car and live in a normal house and do normal things that aren’t embarrassing and different and loud. This is all I want. Please. Thank you. Amen.”

Charlie Harrisong doesn’t hate his family, he just doesn’t want them to be so different from everyone else. Sometimes it seems like the whole world is laughing at them, and he’s the only one in his family who even notices. They may live in Normal, Illinois, but they aren’t even close to being normal.

They live in a yellow brick house with creepy looking bushes in the front yard. They rent it because they can’t afford to buy it. They don’t even have air conditioning. They don’t have enough money to buy a house because there are five kids in his family, not two or three like everyone else. Charlie’s parents are okay — his mom works from home making slipcovers for furniture, and his dad is a handyman. He can fix anything, but the cartoony-looking guy painted on the side of his truck looks like an idiot who just hit his thumb with a hammer. Charlie thinks it makes his dad look stupid. Ben, Charlie’s little brother, is always acting crazy and telling jokes, his little sister, Laura, cries about everything — usually really loud and in public. Clara, his older sister, is running for seventh grade class president, which has completely ruined Charlie’s plans for spending sixth grade becoming either invisible or as close to normal as possible. Sally’s just a baby, so she isn’t too bad, although she’s awfully loud, but Charlie figures it’s just a matter of time. And worst of all, his family always does everything together, whether it’s shopping or movies or going out for ice cream, so everyone always notices them.

But what really wasn’t normal was when Charlie’s parents decided suddenly, without warning, that the whole family would pack up and leave town in the middle of the night, taking just what they could stuff into a few suitcases and boxes, and leaving the rest behind. Making important decisions late at night with way too little information was seriously not normal. They were leaving behind everything they knew, risking everything. It was unreal, and scary, and it was happening to the Harrisong family.