Monday, September 24, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) 
Page Count: 387
Source: Complimentary ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!!!)

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. But that isn't happening—not if his parents have anything to do with it. Concerned their son lacks social skills, they ship him off to summer camp to become a man. They want him to be outdoors playing with kids his own age and meeting girls—rather than indoors alone, with only his gaming alter ego for company. Perry knows 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. There he meets Mortin Enaw, one of the creators of C&C, and other mythical creatures from the game, including the alluring Ada Ember, whom Perry finds more beautiful than any human girl he's ever met. Perry's new otherworldly friends need his help to save their princess and prevent mass violence. As they embark on their quest, Perry realizes that his nerdy childhood has uniquely prepared him to be a great warrior in this world, and maybe even a hero. But to save the princess, Perry will have to learn how to make real connections in the human world as well.

Bestselling author Ned Vizzini delivers a compulsively readable and wildly original story about the winding and often hilarious path to manhood.
What Stephanie Thinks: I've been a Ned Vizzini fan since way way back. I recall purchasing a first edition hardcover copy of Be More Chill at a school book fair the moment it hit the shelves; reveling in his next release, It's Kind of a Funny Story; and the pride/nostalgia/elation I felt when I discovered the latter had been turned into a movie. 

So I was a little more than excited to try his newest, The Other Normals, which is for a slightly different audience, but regardless full of his typical teen angst (see what I did there?) and literally laugh-out-loud-able humor. Many thanks to Ned for the ARC!

The book could read middle grade because of the high-fantasy elements that teenagers might rather roll their eyes at, as well as Perry's inexplicable dorkiness—though it is the essence of his character, which I absolutely loved—but the content is more mature: a bit of mild swearing, sexuality, and just plain giggle-worthy inappropriateness... giggle-worthingly inappropriate for middle-grade boys, that is (penis jokes, anyone?). Nothing offensive to me obviously, but I can imagine some parents disapproving. On the other hand, it's extremely child-friendly. The Other Normals is the kind of book you want your children to stay away from, but whose story you don't want them to miss out on. Honestly, if you're a parent reading this, just be a cool mom/dad and hand it over to your kid. So what if they learn more than a few ways to name the male genitalia? The deep recesses of a teenage boy's mind are bound to contain far more incriminating thoughts.

Plot-wise, it contains that classical Vizzinian magical realism (classical to Be More Chill, anyway) and never gets boring. I was stunned by the span of creativity that's portrayed; Perry's adventure, and subsequently, Vizzini's imagination, is endless! The teleportation, the nefarious villains, the odd and enchanting array of introduced creatures, the geekiness, the underground adventures—such a thrill of a read! The world of Other Normals and the concept of correspondents are both novel and intriguing; brilliant and yet at the same time, somewhat devastating. I really couldn't get enough of them. 

One thing was slightly off, though. While often-hilarious anecdotes pertaining to growing up, family, the perplexing female species, and just regular daily observances are picked up on, I feel at times, there are too many attempted stretches of humor. Maybe my sense of humor itself has evolved over the years, but I feel The Other Normals wasn't as remarkable because it doesn't possess the entertainment factor Vizzini's other works have. I constantly wondered if he was desperate for ideas to make kids laugh... because some of it is just not funny, as if he's trying too hard. The story, I loved—it's original, it's grand, it's marvelous. The tone however, is just stiff. I was slightly disappointed.

That being said, overall, I'm glad I got to try this new side of Ned Vizzini. It's definitely unlike his previous works, but enjoyable nonetheless. It's one of those books that are for reluctant readers: fast-paced, action-packed, and funny; more like a comic book or movie without images, something middle-grade boys will enjoy because they'll be able to relate to it best, but girls will still be able to find humor and insight within. Combining a fresh, believable voice with deep discoveries about interpersonal relationships and adolescent identity, The Other Normals is a wild escape from reality I both applaud and recommend. It's hard to make a children's book profound, yet still appealing, but Vizzini, as always, does it seamlessly.

Stephanie Loves: "I look at the stars ... they force you to think in a different direction.

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥