The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Balzar + Bray, 400 Pages
US Release Date: September 25, 2012
Source: Gift from author - thank you SO much! (read about it here)
Given the chance, fifteen-year-old Peregrine “Perry” Eckert would dedicate every waking moment to Creatures & Caverns, an epic role-playing game rich with magical creatures, spell casting, and deadly weapons. The world of C&C is where he feels most comfortable in his own skin, so when his parents ship him off to summer camp Perry is sure he’s in for the worst summer of his life.
Everything changes, however, when Perry gets to camp and stumbles into the World of the Other Normals. Perry’s new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest together, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero.
Bestselling author Ned Vizzini delivers a compulsively readable and wildly original story about the winding and often hilarious path to manhood.
"That's the number one thing I hear about humans. You have all these choices, so you're confused all the time, and you think so much that you're never happy."
I think the best word for The Other Normals would be quirky. The concept is a bit quirky, the main character Perry is a bit quirky, the World of The Other Normals is a bit quirky, pretty much any way you approach this book...it's odd, and weird, and completely unlike anything I've encountered. And I love that.
Even though it's a fairly hefty book at 400 pages, I flew through it in no time flat: there's something so smooth about the storyline and you go so seamlessly between the worlds, you barely notice (aside from the giant printed words!). Ned Vizzini's writing has always been captivating to me; the descriptions, personifications, every word has a purpose and they work together so well. It's hard to describe, but whenever I'm reading anything of his...it just feels familiar, even if they're words I've never heard before. I feel like I'm coming back to an old friend.
This will sound stupid, but something I didn't take into account when reading this is that it was going to be about an RPG game - which is something I have no interest in. I've never understood games like Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. and even though it's callous of me to say, I don't really want to understand them. I've just never understood the appeal, and while of course everyone is free to like what they will, it's not for me. So when I started reading The Other Normals and realized that oh...I'm going to be reading about a game (called Creatures & Caverns in the book)...it was kind of tough to hold my attention, simply because games like that make my eyes glaze over. So just...be more aware than I was going in!
The other difficulty was with two of the characters. The first was Perry, the main boy. I just didn't like him much. He was awkward and weird, and not really in an endearing way - more in a cover my eyes and ears way, where I get secondhand embarrassment and want to duck my head and hide behind my hair. He made me cringe with some of his actions and thoughts, and while I'm sure those are actually very real things to a teenage boy, it just made me uncomfortable. Perry is self-involved and a bit rude, and there were definite moments I had to just take a deep breathe and remind myself that 1) he's a teenage boy, and 2) he's a character in a book. The second character I had a small issue with was Sam - he was so two-faced with Perry, which bothered me a bit; but mostly, he felt underdeveloped. I couldn't quite figure out why he did some of the things he did, and there were so many more possibilities with him! He could have been a fantastic asset to Perry in the real world, but he just...wasn't.
However! I kind of fell in love with the World of The Other Normals, and especially with the two that Perry falls in with: Mortin Enaw and Ada Ember. They were such a fun bunch, and I loved their outlook on life. I was also fascinated with the existence of The World of The Other Normals, and how it did in relation to the real world - such a weird, fun concept, and I like the idea of there being transition points between the two. It was creative and original, and I enjoyed how the actions in one would effect what happens in the other world. The Other World was so much fun to discover, and even though the world itself wasn't built too much, I enjoyed all the characters that appeared in there. It was fun to read about each one and see what crazy person/hybrid would pop up next.
The story itself was a great adventure, too - I feel like I examine elements of books so often that I forget to look at the book as a whole. Which would be a shame for The Other Normals, because the storyline is the best part! The entire plot is an awesome mix of fantasy geekdom and weapon-wielding adventure and travel with some hilarious shenanigans, odd friendships in even odder places, and an exciting ending that involved a fairly epic showdown in a summer camp mess hall thrown in.
Underlying all the fun are some great lessons and bigger pictures, too. One of my favourite elements of a Vizzini novel is the subtle wisdom that permeates it; you're learning without even realizing, because they're embedded so well in the content. And thankfully, The Other Normals delivers with that, too. Watching Perry kind of grow up, we get to see a boy finally understand what it means to live your life as opposed to wanting to live a different one. And I really enjoyed watching Perry figure out girls (or at least attempt to!) and the dynamics of relationships and friendships; it's meaningful at the same time as being funny.
While I'm not sure if The Other Normals will be for everyone, I hope that everyone at least tries - it's surprising in the weirdest, most creative way.
4 Stars / 5