A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel. October 11, 2016. Sky Pony Press, 272 p. ISBN: 9781510702288. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.2; Lexile: 670.
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.
Sequel to: A Blind Guide to Stinkville
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Death of a child
School Library Journal (October 1, 2016)
Gr 4-6-Richie Ryder Randolf is used to being a big fish in a small pond. At the Addison School for the Blind, he’s hilarious, he’s smooth, and he’s popular enough to serve as a social mentor for others. Relocated to a middle school in suburban Washington, DC, for eighth grade while his scientist parents go on assignment, he’s flopping on the shore and gasping for air. Between navigating the challenges of his limited vision (he wears an artificial eye owing to complications from cancer) and being a social disaster, Ryder is seriously struggling-and he’s not the only one. His grandfather, who’s supposed to be taking care of Ryder while the boy’s parents are away, talks to his decades-dead wife, lives as if he’s still in the 1970s, and insists on calling the protagonist by his full name, Richie Ryder. Ryder’s parents are immersed in work to the point of benign neglect. In this sequel to A Blind Guide to Stinkville, Vrabel injects just the right goofy mix of hormones and pain into Ryder’s mounting rages, fervent emotional deflection techniques, and confusing romantic ups and downs and gives equal weight to the foibles and dramas of those around him. As any reader of middle grade fiction might expect, the title is a red herring-nobody’s normal, and everybody’s just trying their best. VERDICT A sweet, thoughtful, and funny read. Hand this to fans of Vrabel’s previous novels and those who enjoy a heartfelt tale without the typical saccharine coating.-Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
When Ryder graduates from the Addison School for the Blind, he and Artie—his artificial eye, courtesy of cancer—look forward to being normal, whatever that is. Wisecracking, white Ryder is forced to stay with his eccentric, equally sarcastic grandfather when his parents, both avid research biologists, accept new assignments. His arrival at Papuaville Middle School is a shock—to the teacher he causes to faint and the semibully he inadvertently provokes. Fortunately, crushing on white, tough-but-wounded Jocelyn and wielding his increasingly desperate sense of humor help him to withstand bullies, distant parents, and cringeworthy good intentions. Karate classes provide an outlet, humor, and further character development, and a surprise quilting class provides surprising insight. Readers may groan at Ryder’s jokes, but the pranks he pulls with his narration are great fun, calling out “very special episode” clichés and blindness stereotypes. But the “relentless positivity” trope is dismantled with care as Ryder interacts with equally vulnerable characters and sees his clowning for the defense mechanism it often is—and acknowledges the anger it’s masking. Like Alice of the preceding A Blind Guide to Stinkville (2015), Ryder and his family and friends all experience disorientation—this time from the shock of moving forward as well as away—and learn how to grieve in their own ways. As Ryder might say, Vrabel has an eye for sympathetic, offbeat characters—and a knack for feel-good resolutions. (Fiction. 9-12)
About the Author
Beth Vrabel grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. She won a short-story contest in fourth grade and promptly decided writing was what she was going to do with her life. Although her other plans–becoming a wolf biologist, a Yellowstone National Park ranger, and a professional roller skater–didn’t come to fruition, she stuck with the writing. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in journalism, she moved through the ranks of a local newspaper to become editor of two regional magazines and a lifestyle columnist. Beth now lives in Connecticut with her wonderful husband, two charming children, a spoiled rotten puppy, and two guinea pigs, Winn-Dixie and Pippin.
Her website is www.bethvrabel.com.
Around the Web
A Blind Guide to Normal on Amazon
A Blind Guide to Normal on JLG
A Blind Guide to Normal on Goodreads