Friday, September 21, 2012

The Upside of Ordinary by Susan Lubner

The Upside of Ordinary by Susan Lubner (Holiday House; October 1, 2012) 
(Project Mayhem received an ARC from the author for review.)

Hi, Mayhemer Michael G. here. Thanks for joining me as I rave about this debut Middle Grade novel from writer Susan Lubner. (She's pubbed by Holiday House, who also publish Hilary and Dawn--so there's a lot of Mayhem love to go around.)

First, here's the story (from the Holiday House website): 

Jermaine Davidson wants to be famous: limo-riding, camera-flashing, crowd-cheering famous. She decides to become the first eleven-year-old producer and star of a reality TV show about her life. Her family quickly tires of her following their every move, filming them night and day. But life around the Davidson house is dull, so Jermaine starts staging events to elicit more drama, excitement, and humor. Her unbridled ambition leads her to alienate her best friend over a disastrous make-over episode, send her arachnophobic mother packing, turn an emotional family crisis into a tacky mystery segment, and ruin her mother's chances to win the annual pickle palooza. Filled with remorse, Jermaine turns her talents to making amends and in the process learns the upside of being part of a loving but ordinary family.

 My Five Favorite Things about the novel:

  1. A strong character arc. Jermaine is a completely believable preteen. She is so determined to win fame, that she stages some appalling stunts to make her reality show more exciting. But as events begin to snowball, she realizes the pain she's caused, and takes steps to make amends.
  2. A strong supporting cast. From Jermaine's older sister, Zelda--to her parents, aunt and uncle, and best friends--Susan Lubner has created a tremendous ensemble. I found myself nodding at the reactions of Jermaine's mom and dad to her escapades--and could totally believe the anger Ro (Jermaine's best friend) feels when she ends up with hacked-up hair.
  3. Believable use of modern technology. I know, I know. Writers struggle with all the modern gadgets and gizmos available, and how to incorporate them effectively in a narrative. Susan Lubner's decision to use a video camera to record all of Jermaine's stunts is skilfully done.
  4. Effective use of 1st Person, Present Tense. You hear a lot of grumbling from writers and publishing people about this narrative strategy. When done poorly, it can indeed fall flat. But it works wonderfully here, for a character who lives in the moment.
  5. A satisfying ending. I won't give it away, but let me know after you read the novel yourself if you thought the ending was as satisfying as I did. (Hint: the competition result.)
  6. Bonus Favorite Thing: Pickles. What more can I say? Crunch. Yum.
Susan Lubner
Now, I'm honored to be able to share the short interview I had with Susan Lubner, titled Fabulous Five questions:

1) You published several picture books before you wrote THE UPSIDE of ORDINARY. What made you try your hand at middle grade? Really it was just that I had this idea for the novel and it wasn’t something that was going to work for a picture book topic-wise. I was actually a bit nervous to attempt to write a whole novel, the process is so different, but I was excited by the new experience and challenge, and I enjoyed it!

2) Your main character's name is Jermaine--and she's 11. Where did you come up with that name? When I first started writing the story I was going to have the parents be big Jackson 5 fans. But I changed my mind about that as I went along …I wasn’t sure my readers would be that familiar with the group and it didn’t seem to be a necessary part of the storyline. But I love the name Jermaine (and okay, I love Jermaine Jackson too!) so I decided to keep that in the book.

3) Like Jermaine, are you a fan of reality TV? If so, what shows do you like? I do like reality TV. I like the “talent” shows (American Idol, Cupcake Wars, Iron Chef) and so do my daughters and we watch those together. I don’t want to throw myself under the bus by admitting to a few others I enjoy (ahem…housewives…). I generally record those shows and then “allow” myself to watch them when I am folding laundry or working out  on my treadmill.

4) Do you LOVE pickles and HATE spiders as much as Jermaine's mom does? YES and YES!!! I crunched my way through a lot of pickles while writing The Upside of Ordinary. and the habit seems to have stuck.  I used to reach for a stash of M&Ms when I worked and needed a break or had writer’s block. Now I go to the fridge for some pickles! As for spiders…just typing the word gives me the shivers.

5) We can't wait for another book from you. What is your next project? I finished a chapter book that I am about to revise (it may go from chapter book to middle grade novel…) and I am just polishing up a picture book manuscript that I will be sending off to my editor very soon.

Thanks so much, Susan! 

You can learn more about Susan Lubner and her writing on her appealing website. She's also newly on Twitter @Slubner, so go follow her there.

BIG BONUS: For every comment, you have the chance to win a copy of THE UPSIDE OF ORDINARY after its release on October 1st. Bonus entries will be given for tweeting (#PMGiveaway) and/or mentions on Facebook. International Entries welcome. Winner will be announced on PM on Thursday September 27th.


  1. This sounds like an interesting novel that kids would enjoy! Thanks for the interview.

  2. I wanna read it!! I'm actually looking for more books to read and review. This sounds like a great read! Nice interview, Michael and Susan! I enjoyed reading it.

  3. I need to read more contemporary MG. This one sounds very interesting.
    Thanks for the fun interview and generous giveaway.

  4. Here is my tweet:

  5. Sounds like a good one. Thanks, Mike!

  6. I love finding out about new books--thanks for bringing this one to our attention, Michael. :)

  7. Hadn't heard of this book, so thanks for telling us about it. Great interview too. Love the name Jermaine for a girl -- so different.

    And spiders -- shudder! I have to agree with Susan on that. More importantly, I'm impressed that she went from publishing picture books to publishing MG. Maybe there's hope for the rest of us.

  8. I'm all for books like this. It's great for middle-grade age kids who think their lives are so unexciting. What they think is boring, is truly a loving, unique, and special family. Great post, Mike and congrats Susan!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!