My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Point of View: 1st Person & Masculine
Recommended Age: 8+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Family, Friendship
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.
‘‘A Blind Guide to Normal’’ is the companion novel to ‘‘A Blind Guide to Stinkville,’’ but it can very easily be read as a standalone, so definitely don’t fret about that, if you’re curious about it.
And I think you should be, frankly, because this isn’t the sort of story you will come across every day. Let’s say that there aren’t a thousand Beth Vrabels in the world.
What I like most about this author is how much emphasis she puts on relationships. Many authors prefer to center on the plot or the characters themselves, but not all will work on the connection between characters or not well enough to actually stand out.
This author LOVES to focus on just that. I saw it in ‘‘A Blind Guide to Stinkville’’ and I’m seeing it again in this new middle grade gem. Our young hero, Richie Ryder, has to leave the school for the visually impaired and go to a regular one, due to his father’s new job assignment.
Which means that Ryder has to go live with his grandpa, whom he barely even speaks to. At least his mother will be there, too, so it won’t be too awkward.
This novel is all about Ryder assimilating into the regular school, reconnecting with his grandpa, building new friendships and, overall, going through a coming-of-age experience of a sort which helps him learn more about himself and the people who surround him.
It’s crazy how well Vrabel writes from the point of view of a pre-teen. She understands what it means to be a kid so, so well, and that’s fantastic because it makes this novel such an authentic one.
Full of humor and heart, ‘‘A Blind Guide to Normal’’ will appeal to anyone who understands what it’s like to be at the pursuit of a sense of belonging.
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