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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

TITLE: The Other Normals      AUTHOR: Ned Vizzini
PUB: Balzer+Bray                       PUB DATE: 9/25/12
FORMAT: pb ARC                      SOURCE: pub

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.

THREE WORDS: Awkward Characters & Writing

MY REVIEW: I'm a self-proclaimed geek, nerd, queen of awkwardness, so when I read the synopsis to Ned Vizzini's The Other Normals I felt an instant connection to the main character Perry and I hoped I'd find a kindred spirit in him...alas, I did not. I loved Vizzini's other novel It's Kind Of A Funny Story and I think he can craft a stellar contemporary voice. Unfortunately, this particular novel just didn't strike a chord with me.

Peregrine “Perry” Eckert is by all definitions a loner, geek, late bloomer. At 15 years old, he has no real friends, has never kissed a girl and spends all his time playing Creatures & Caverns, a role-playing game infused with magic and myth. He longs for the day when he can put his C&C skills to work and be a real life hero, and when his parents ship him off to summer camp he may just get his chance. While at camp he discovers the World of the Other Normals where C&C creatures are real. The Other Normals enlist Perry's help to save their princess and world and Perry finally has the chance to be a hero and maybe even make real friends.

The Other Normals has a great, fresh premise; Vizzini takes a well used plot (outsider loner is transported into a fantasy world and must become a hero) and taken it to some imaginative and unexpected places. Unfortunately, the story, with its unlikable hero; awkward writing and all over the place storyline just did not work for me.

At 400 pages, this is a longer read and I considered DNFing halfway through because of the slow, meandering pace and baffling storyline, but I pushed through, wanting to see how Perry's story ended. I genuinely liked the fantasy world and grand adventure aspects of this story. The world of the Other Normals is fantastical and intriguing, but the world-building is often fragmented, overwhelming or confusing. While fascinated by certain aspects of this fantasy world, I didn't feel like I ever got a complete grasp of this world and its history, people, cultures, etc.

I think my biggest issue with this book is the main character, Perry. I didn't find him very likable or relatable at all. Yes, he's smart, exhibits a certain level of courage and thoughtfulness and clearly has a difficult home life, but I found him incredibly immature for a 15 year old, tactless and his awkwardness is less endearing and more eye-rolling. I had a really hard time liking Perry or rooting for him. There's just something about his characterization that feels forced and clunky. And so much of his dialogue and humor is flat or stilted and many of his actions are perplexing...at one point he pulls his pants down at a dance to show a girl his first and only pubic hair to prove that he's a “man”...I may have never been a 15 year old boy, but I'm pretty sure this is not a normal reaction to rejection, right?!

Many of the other characters read like over the top cliches or caricatures. There's also a bit of unnecessary and kind of offensive racism going on in this book; both Perry and other campers often point out that he's the only white kid at camp and refer to the camp as “ghetto”.

Much of the storyline feels jumbled and confusing. And perhaps being a twenty-something female, I'm just not the right audience for this book, but I didn't really “get” the humor, voice or style. The only thing that kept me reading this book until the end, and the reason it gets two cupcakes, is the character Ada. Ada, one of the Other Normals, is the only character I actually liked and enjoyed. Her humor is actually funny, her actions actually make sense and her personality is actually likable.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I really wanted to like The Other Normals but just never connected with the less than greatly executed story or unlikable characters. I just don't think I was the right audience for this particular book, but I have no doubt the right audience will get Vizzini's story and connect with Perry. And I may not be a fan of this book, but I will certainly continue to read Vizzini's work in the future.


MY RATING

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Vizzini grew up primarily in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. He attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, graduating in 1999. While still a teenager, he began to write articles for the New York Press, an alternative newspaper.
After he wrote an essay that got published by the New York Times Magazine, several of his essays about his young adult life ended up being combined into his first book, Teen Angst? Naaah.... Vizzini attended Hunter College, also located in Manhattan. Ned Vizzini currently lives in New York City and continues to write and to speak about his books. Vizzini's characters and situations are said be based upon his time spent at Stuyvesant.

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