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A Blind Guide to Normal Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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From School Library Journal
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
"A Blind Guide to Normal treats difficult subjects with grace and compassion, plus a delightful sense of the absurd. With his unique voice and a memorable predicament, Richie Ryder represents the underdog in us all." -- Melissa Hart, author of Avenging the Owl
"Once in a great while I read a book and want to immediately email the author to thank them for writing it. A Blind Guide to Normal is one of those books. It's filled with kindness, friendship, and hope. Lots of hope. Just beautiful." -- Kerry O'Malley Cerra, author of Just a Drop of Water
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His grandfather's home is basically locked in the past; it's been kept exactly as it was when his grandmother died when her son was born (in the 1970s, which aren't a good time to be locked into). And the grandfather's only way to reach out is with his horrible sense of humor; little things like signing Ryder up for quilting class at school. Embarrassing. Awkward. Unlovable. And rather similar to Ryder in his use of humor as a coping mechanism.
Ryder himself isn't "normal." He lost an eye to childhood cancer, and the sight in his remaining eye isn't great, and he has to live not only with the visual difficulties but with the fear that the cancer might come back. And Ryder is not great at keeping control of his mouth. The first day at school he makes an enemy of the golden boy in town.... whose girlfriend (ish) Jocelyn, with her own burden of grief and guilt, Ryder starts crushing on something fierce.
It's a character driven book, so although there are things that happen (including a generous helping of martial arts training, which I enjoyed, even though martial arts aren't my own thing), the point is Ryder's emotional state and the emotions of those around him. By the end of the book, they have moved to a point where they can smash the past (at least partly) and face their fears. Although loss and uncertainty can't be vanquished just through character growth, peace and acceptance are possible, and welcome. It's not a surprise ending, but it's a welcome one. I enjoyed my time with Ryder and his grandfather and Jocelyn, and wish them well. If you are looking for a warm, hopeful, sometimes funny, sometimes squirm-inducing read, give this one a try.
A Blind Guide to Normal is a realistically rich tale about struggling with emotions and how to cope with the things we have to live with. It is an adventure of emotions, one's self, and how to cope, with characters that will keep you laughing even when you want to cry.
Ryder is fourteen and he wants to be normal, so he convinces his parents to let him go to a normal public school instead of a school for the blind. Plans don't always work out how you expect them to, but is it always such a bad thing? Since nothing really happened as he expected, Ryder was forced to start feeling his anger and frustration about the unfairness of his situation. He lashed out and broke down, did some pretty bad things, and figured out a way to cope. This is his journey, this is how he heals. He isn't always the best person and he doesn't always want to deal with things, and this just makes his character more real and flawed. It was easy to connect with his emotions, though not his situation, which allowed us to really delve into his character so we could understand just how deep his pain ran. Ryder's story is compelling, eye-opening, and worth reading.
Jocelyn is also a strong character. Despite her guilt and torment, she fights back and makes sure to laugh and smile. She is fierce, brave, and also flawed. I love her character, but she makes mistakes like the rest of us and she doesn't always listen to others because she feels like they treat her like she's glass and she hates it. She learns how to cope with everything troubling her as well, and the growth of the characters is truly wonderful.
The writing is simple but realistic, which makes it easy to fall into the story and understand the characters. You won't be able to help yourself from falling in love with Ryder, the sweet kid who refuses to do anything but joke around so no one has to feel bad. Simple in writing but rich in emotion.
Overall, this is a lovely book I definitely recommend!
*A huge thanks to the publisher for providing me with a free copy!