The Last Exit to Normal, published by Knopf Books in 2008, is Michael Harmon’s novel of a boy’s rebellion after his family becomes divided.
When Ben is seventeen, his father announces to the family that he is gay. Ben’s mother leaves, which prompts Ben to blame his father for breaking up the family. As he attempts to sort out his family's chaos, Ben gets arrested, misses school, and uses drugs. For two years, he does whatever he can to get back at his father. A year later things have settled down. Ben does not use drugs or get into trouble.
Things do not remain settled for long. Ben’s life is disrupted again when Ben's father and his boyfriend, Edward, decide to move from their home in Spokane, Washington, to Montana. They end up living with Edward's mother, Miss Mae, in a town of four hundred people. Ben misbehaves and resists all of these changes and the new family dynamics, but Miss Mae has a mind of her own. She forces Ben to live in a woodshed until he learns to obey her. The challenges do not end with Miss Mae: the next-door neighbors are Pentecostals and believe that Ben’s family is doomed to go to hell because of the homosexual relationship.
Ben finds that appearances do not always reveal the truth about a person’s character or moral fiber. When his attention turns to a boy next door named Billy, he learns of a family secret within that household. The boy suffers from child abuse in this ultra-religious household. Ben realizes that family life is challenging even for those who look like they have everything intact. Over time, Ben begins to build a strong relationship with his father in that they begin to accept each other as they are.
Part of the achievement for Harmon is that the subject matter in this novel has the potential to be bleak; however, Ben is an admirable character. He can be romantic and depressed, funny and honorable, stubborn and rash. He reacts honestly to homosexuality and homophobia, and manages to draw empathy from readers. Reviewers praise Harmon's ability to capture the volatile relations between a father and a son within an unusual plot structure.