Friday, December 2, 2016

A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel, 2016

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Richie “Ryder” Raymond has a gift. He can find the punchline in any situation, even in his limited vision and prosthetic eye. During the past year at Addison School for the Blind, Ryder’s quick wit earned the respect and friendship of his classmates. Heading to mainstream, or “normal,” school for eighth grade is going to be awesome.

After all, what’s not to like? At Addison, Ryder was everyone’s favorite person. He could make anyone laugh, especially his best friend Alice. So long as he can be first to make all of the one-eyed jokes, Ryder is sure he’ll fit in just as quick at Papuaville Middle School, home of the Fighting Guinea Pigs. But Alice warns him fitting in might not be as easy as he thinks.

Turns out, Alice was right. In just the first hour of “normal” school, Ryder is attacked by General MacCathur II (aka, Gramps’s cat), causes his bio teacher to pass out cold, makes an enemy out town hero Max, and falls for Jocelyn, the fierce girl next door who happens to be Max’s girlfriend. On top of that, Ryder struggles to hold onto his dignity in the face of students’ pity and Gramps’s non-stop practical jokes.

Ryder quickly sees the only thing worse than explaining a joke is being the punchline. But with help from his stuck-in-the-70s Gramps and encouragement from Alice, Ryder finds the strength to not only fight back, but to make peace.

This exciting sequel to A Blind Guide to Stinkville weaves humor, recovery and second chances into an unforgettable story, with characters who will hook you from page one.

(272 pages)

I always meant to read A Blind Guide to Stinkville. I even went so far as to check it out from the library one time about a year ago, but then life happened and I had to turn it back in before I got around to reading it. When I got an email from Sky Pony Press asking whether I'd like to review its sequel/companion, A Blind Guide to Normal, I figured this was my chance to read a book at least connected to Stinkville. I went in with very high hopes.

Coming out of the book I'm a little less enthusiastic. I liked it, sure, but I just didn't really connect with the characters the way everyone else seemed to with Stinkville. I could see and understand the pain Ryder buried deep inside his chest, the way he shoved aside his fear and anger and insecurity and masked it with corny jokes. I saw that, but I still didn't really like him. Ryder treats his grandfather like a laughingstock throughout most of the book, even though the old man is still mourning the death of his wife; he makes new friends in school but treats them absolutely horribly; he does some very insensitive things, then never really apologizes for them. To be honest, I feel bad for Ryder–I really do. But I feel even worse for Jocelyn and Max and Gramps.

And really, Jocelyn and Max and Gramps are the main reason I liked Normal. Jocelyn was probably my favorite character, just because I loved the glimpses we got of her past and how she fought to move forward. Max is, basically, an ideal boyfriend. I loved him throughout the book, even when he was going head-to-head with Ryder. And Gramps? Gramps is just straight-up awesome. When he tells the story of his past, it's so touching to see how much in love he still is with his wife–even though she's been gone for around thirty years. Ryder was too busy being embarrased by his grandfather's old-fashioned sense of style to realize how sweet and cool the old man really was.

Do I recommend A Blind Guide to Normal? Meh. I suppose if you want to read it I'm not going to warn you off it, it really is funny in some parts and meaningful in others. Just go in knowing that Ryder isn't the nicest person in the world, and that there is way too much romantic angst in this book about a bunch of thirteen-year-olds. If you do/have read it, definitely let me know what you think! In the meantime, I think I'm going to send my copy off to my local Little Free Library.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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