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Steering Toward Normal

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  188 ratings  ·  83 reviews
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. Sudd ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Ryan Gebhart
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Steering Toward Normal is the story of thirteen-year-old Diggy Lawson who competes in the annual 4-H cattle showing in Minnesota, which involves properly feeding and grooming of a baby steer for a year. But his plan gets thrown on it's head when Wayne, a schoolmate, gets dumped in front of his house by his drunken father, claiming that Diggy's dad is also Wayne's.

This story weaves contemporary family struggles with the culture of 4-H, really delving into the finer points of cattle raising, which
Robin Herrera
There are so many things I loved about this book that I can't possibly tell them in any coherent matter.

HENCE, a list:

1. HUMOR. Humor is used EFFECTIVELY! I actually laughed out loud while reading this novel. And two of those times were within the last fifteen pages! I can't tell you what made me laugh, because I can't spoil anything that close to the end! But I will tell you it was the last line of chapter 32 that did it.

2. CHARACTERS. I read WIPs and books where the main characters have severe
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I absolutely loved the storyline to this book and all the characters in it! I went into this book blind and loved every minute of it. The symbolism in this book was just amazing and some of the twists you would never see coming. The characters relationship with each other grows slowly throughout and it really was enjoyable.
Ms. Yingling
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Diggy Lawson likes his life in Minnesota-- he lives with Pop, having been abandoned by his mother as a baby, but he enjoys living in the country and raising steers for 4H and the state fair. When Wayne Graf is suddenly dumped at his house by Mr. Graf, who (reeling from the recent death of Mrs. Graf) thinks that Wayne is really Pop's son as well, thinks don't go quite as well. While Wayne has a huge extended family who would like to take him in, Wayne (who is actually Pop's biological son) wants ...more
Kim Van Sickler
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love books that take me into a world I don't know. Steering Toward Normal is set against a backdrop of 4H and steer raising for county and state fair competitions, but the title is actually a play on words because eighth grader Diggy's definition of normal is about to become drastically redefined. And it's not just the immediate issue of learning to deal with a nearly same aged half-brother who is dumped on Diggy's dad's doorstep because HE is also Pop Lawson's biological son. (So later in the ...more
Suzanne Moore
Dec 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wayne and Diggy are surprised to find that they have the same father. This story gives readers a look at motherless boys and their Dad. Wayne does have a "Pop" (father who raised him), but he moves in with his biological dad when things get rough at home. The majority of the story is about raising steer for 4-H and state fair competition. Things get interesting with the new family dynamics, especially when girls that the boys have known for years are maturing and start "acting different." A fun ...more
Mary Taranta
Jul 02, 2015 added it
Shelves: 2015
I loved this book, the end.

(Also, I loved this book as a former 4-H'er; even though I leaned more towards the sewing/home crafts end of the spectrum, going to the fair and getting my ribbons and seeing all the animals was always a highlight. This book reminded me of what it was like being in that atmosphere.)
Jill Adams
Oct 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I liked the focus family relationships. The 4-H info? Not so much. I feel that I can judge this since I was a member for five years. And yes--I can make pie crust from scratch. I just don't like to. ;-)
Carol Baldwin
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In Rebecca Petruck's debut middle grade novel, she has managed to write a book that both boy and girl readers will enjoy. Incorporating 8th-grade humor, Rebecca also deals with hard, emotional issues of death and abandonment. I could see why it was chosen as one of the top 10 children's debut books by the American Booksellers Association! I predict that librarians, teachers, parents--and most of all kids-- will eat this book up!
Kudos, Rebecca!

Here is more of a review using "Save the Cat" by Bla
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is about an 8th grader named Diggy who is apart of a programmed called 4H. 4H is a program that provides cattle and farm animals for kids to show at competitions. Diggy raises his cow Joker for his 8th-grade year. Diggy's goal is to win grand champ at the state fair. One day Diggy's classmate Wayne gets dropped off at Diggy's house Wayne explains that his grieving dad found out that he wasn't Wayne's dad, Diggy's dad was. So now Diggy has to get along with a kid in his grade as his br ...more
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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, hav
Joan Roll
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Thirteen-year-old Diggy Lawson has already shown his steers in several competitions at the county and state fairs in Minnesota but this year is supposed to be an important year for him. His competitor, July Johnston, is older and will not be taking any animals to the fair this year so Diggy has made it his goal to raise a steer that will win grand champion at the state fair.

Diggy’s family members are just he and his Dad, Pop, since Diggy’s mother abandoned them when he was just a baby. They hav
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brenda by: Giveaway offered at Word Spelunking
Shelves: contemporary
When Diggy was one month old his mom left him in a laundry basket on Pop's (everyone calls him Pop's) doorstep and went riding out of town on his tractor. Diggy really hasn't given her another thought, until Mr. Graf shows up one day and drops Wayne on Pop's doorstep telling him that he's Wayne's dad. Apparently the whole thing came to light when Mrs. Graf died recently. Just in that little piece, you really get a feel for the plot, but there is so much more to it then just that. Wayne and Diggy ...more
Katie Fitzgerald
This review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.

In his eighth grade year, Diggy Lawson raises a steer for a 4-H competition while coming to terms with the discovery that his father has another son.

This wonderful upper middle grade novel tells a touching family story, but without drowning its readers in sentimentality. Diggy’s love for his father, his steer, and later, for Wayne, the brother he never knew about, are the driving forces of the story, presented realistically and with a heavy
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: teen
Diggy is looking forward to his year: he plans to raise the best steer in the county. No, check that, the state! His life, however, gets turned upside down when Wayne is dumped at his doorstep and he discovers this townie is actually his half brother. Life gets even worse when Wayne decides he, too, is going to raise an award-winning steer, though he's never worked with animals in his life. Diggy fluctuates between being sympathetic and outright angry with Wayne, all the while caring for his cal ...more
Rosi Hollinbeck
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Diggy Lawson is looking forward to his eighth-grade year. He has a great calf to raise to compete for a top prize at the Minnesota State Fair. He has great friends at school and in 4-H, where he gets to spend a lot of time with July, the girl he has a secret crush on. He and his dad, Pop, have a great time together, just the two of them. (Diggy's mom had left when he was a baby.) But the wheels start to come off when a guy from school, one Diggy hardly knows, Wayne Graf, is tossed out in their ...more
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade
A story that is about the heart and depth of family set against the backdrop of a 4H kid and his steer. I kind of hate the whole boy book, girl book thing, but the story of Diggy, his news-to-him half-brother Wayne, and the man who fathered them, Pop, has lots of grit and gusto that I think will appeal to boy readers. Not that there isn't plenty for girls, too. But between the hilarious pranks, the raising of Joker and Fang, and Diggy's model rockets, there's a bunch of great boy interest stuff ...more
Cathy Hall
Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
If you had told me that I'd fall for a book with a bunch of steers in it--and all sorts of 4H stuff, too--I'd have said you were crazy. But Rebecca Petruck's novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is so much more than a book about raising steers, and I couldn't put it down!

Diggy Lawson is serious about winning the state fair, and that means he must devote all his time to getting his steer prize-ready. So when his half-brother Wayne shows up, he doesn't have time to fool with him--or all the issues he dr
Sep 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, realistic-fiction
Growing up in rural Minnesota, 4-H is a huge part of Diggy's life. He is especially excited for 8th grade, since he is sure that this will be the year his steer wins at the State Fair. But life throws a huge curve ball his way, in the form of his classmate Wayne, who Diggy learns is his half brother. As Wayne moves in with Diggy and their father, Diggy's world is twisted on its axis. Everything he thought he knew about himself, his relationship with his father, even his own absent mother, is tur ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: firstreads
Rebecca Petruck's Steering Toward Normal is a well written debut (mature) middle grade book. This book deals with issues of resentment, anger, grief, alcoholism, abandonment and rejection while incorporating practical jokes, teenage crushes (the hair gel scene cracked me up) and 4H.

The more mature aspects of the story are handled very well by the author, and I appreciated the appropriate lack of details regarding the adult behavior that led to the family situation. A great read for the more mat
May 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kids
Eighth-grader Diggy Lawson has a plan for the year - raising a prizewinning 4-H steer for the county fair. But when a classmate's mom dies, Diggy learns that the classmate is actually his half brother, who comes to live with Diggy and his (their) father. Diggy isn't thrilled with this arrangement.

I loved so much about this book - the writing was excellent and I found myself rereading sentences to let them sink in. The relationships were well developed and so believable. The parts about grief an
Rachael Allen
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
So…you need to go read this book. Because you need to know about things like "beef princesses" and styling products for cows and also because YETIS!!!! And if that alone didn't hook you (how could it not?!), this story has so much heart. I was in awe of how Petruck could tackle such serious adult themes without watering down the emotion, and yet have it be completely middle grade appropriate at the same time. It gives a really interesting look into competing with show cattle - such an interestin ...more
This book is different, and I liked it. A lot of kids in rural areas are into agriculture and other 4H-type activities, but you don't see many books focused on any of that. There are a lot of other dimensions to this book too, as Diggy has to deal with some pretty intense family issues that a lot of kids will be able to relate to. On the other hand, the writing is kind of choppy and the pacing felt a bit off to me--some chapters are really detailed, then suddenly it skips ahead weeks or even mon ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: middle-grade, arc
I love it when a book has a strong sense of place, and I definitely got that in STEERING TOWARD NORMAL. Set in a small Minnesota farming community, this book taught me more about cattle, 4-H, tractors, and plenty of other aspects of rural life than just about anything I've read before. Add in some great characters (both human and bovine!), humor, and a truly emotional storyline, and I was hooked. I also particularly appreciated the ending; it could have been very pat and tidy, but I like that th ...more
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: all-time-faves
I confess...I picked up this book in the library because I liked the cover. Who can resist a cow with its tongue sticking out? But early into the book it became very clear the story was about a lot more than livestock. Debut author Petruck addresses topics ranging from death, alcoholism and sibling rivalry, among others, with such skill and obvious talent while educating the reader about the ins and outs of 4H. What a clever concept. I will be anxiously awaiting future books from this author.
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book in a little bookstore in Colorado when I was on a road trip and absolutely fell in love. I've shown livestock (Sheep and cattle) my whole life and I am a part of my local FFA chapter. I have never found a book that explores the livestock showing world before and I found this story to be quite special. I love the relationship that formed between Wayne and Diggy throughout the book and also how this story shows the bond between exhibitors and their show stock. The characters ...more
Kami Kinard
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read an ARC of this sweet book with complicated family connections. Rebecca Petruck has woven Diggy's story with many threads that will touch young readers and adults alike. Diggy, the main character, has to deal with raising a prize-winning steer, coming to terms with shifting family dynamics, and the usual relationship changes brought on by puberty. We feel Diggy's frustration with things beyond his control, and admire him for learning to handle them. A great read.
I really did feel invested in Diggy's life, and his and Wayne's experiences. I would recommend this to upper middle grade readers. The story entails a lot of past family issues. I think some kids could really relate.

I learned a lot about showing steers at fairs. I'm still not sure I understand why a steer has to look so nice, and get sprayed with shiny stuff and have its hair styled! I think the part about kids taking such good care of the steers is great though. That is hard work!

A.C.E. Bauer
I read the ARC. It's a well-written story about the relationship of two boys, their fathers, and their steer. It has humor and heartbreak, and does an excellent job of describing upper-middle graders/young teens. Refreshingly, it's set in a rural setting without being off the grid. An impressive debut.
Jan 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mg-novels
A moving novel about what it means to uncover long buried family secrets. With the well-drawn backdrop of steers and 4-H club, Diggy and Wayne learn what it means to be real brothers and find a new "normal."
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Rebecca Petruck is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s "...funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one." SLJ called it "a sure bet for reluctant readers." Kirkus Reviews said it "...successfully weaves together such important themes as bias, solidarity, and coming ...more

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“Diggy wished he could cut sentences out of his head the way he could cut them out of a book, then cut them in half and word by word and letter by letter until they were bits of nothing that drifted from the scissors' edges, gravity not even interested enough to pull them down.” 0 likes
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