In the Middle with Rebecca Petruck

Today, we are in the middle with Rebecca Petruck, chatting about her middle grade debut, Steering Toward Normal.


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 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 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 to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.

Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

Steering Toward Normal is available on Indiebound, B&N, Amazon, Books-A-Million, Indigo, the Abrams/Amulet website, and in bookstores near you.

Q&A with Rebecca

What draws you into writing for a middle grade audience?

I love how willing middle grade readers are to suspend their disbelief and go with a story that catches their attention no matter how outrageous the idea—even if the “outrageous” idea is only that they might ever live on a farm and raise cattle. I think middle grade readers don’t have a lot of filters yet so they seem more willing to let themselves experience a wide range of possibilities through story—which gives me a lot of room to play.

Also, middle grade years are when decisions begin to have more impact with greater repercussions. Good role models are vital, and books have always been a source of positive role models for me.

If you had a time machine and could visit middle-grade you, what would you tell her?

Middle grade self, choose Erica’s side! She is fun, smart, and could be a great friend if you are brave. Sure, it’s cool to be picked by Wendy because she’s popular. But you know you choose her because saying no means getting on her bad side, and that means being treated the way she treats Erica. The thing is, by choosing Wendy, it means she expects you to be mean to Erica, too. And you do it. Just the once, but it’s enough. Erica is never your friend again, and this time when you move away, you are glad. It doesn’t help, though. You become a teen, an adult, a middle-aged lady, and you often think of Erica and write letters of apology she’ll never receive. Losing her friendship is one of the biggest regrets of your life. So: Be kind. Be strong. Choose wisely. And don’t back down. You will never, ever regret it.

Leaving for a week-long 4-H summer camp. Crying when I say goodbye is something I inherited from my grandma.

Leaving for a week-long 4-H summer camp. Crying when I say goodbye is something I inherited from my grandma.

Choose your own adventure: Is there an interview question you’d love to answer, but haven’t been asked?

Why, WHY did you pick ENTOMOPHAGY for your next book project? Why?! You’re going to have to EAT BUGS. Did you think of that AT ALL before you committed to the idea?

Entomophagy has interested me since I first read about it in National Geographic a few years ago. It’s the eating of insects for nutrition, and will likely be how we successfully make long space voyages in the future. For those of us still on Earth, entomophagy is common in most cultures—Americans and Europeans are the weirdos who still don’t eat insects regularly. Which is problematic because what we do eat requires a ton of resources that we are running out of. Raising bugs is highly resource-efficient, and the insects are both nutritious and are supposed to be quite tasty. Logically speaking, I <3 entomophagy.

But no, I didn’t really think through the fact that I would have to eat bugs. Trying bug treats was going to be my winter project, but uff da, this was a bad winter, wasn’t it? And spring isn’t a good time because it’s so pretty outside! Must take advantage of it before the North Carolina summer heat and humidity sets in. So testing bug dishes will be my summer project, and no, I haven’t been procrastinating at all!

The things we do for our art, right? Good luck with the bug eating and congratulations on your debut!

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


    • Thank YOU for dropping in!

  1. Mmm, tasty bugs! That’s great, Rebecca. Please let us know how that goes down. 😉 I wish I’d taken your advice to your middle grade self in high school. In my case I got offended over one dumb comment and never spoke to my best friend again. I’ve always regretted it.

    Congrats on the release of your wonderful book!


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