Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Publisher : Balzer and Bray (Harper Collins)
Pages :  387
Rating: 4/5

     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 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.

I like to think of this book as a mix between Percy Jackson and Dungeons and Dragons.  Although the story and characters are nothing like Percy’s, they evoked the same feeling of a nerdy kid trying to make his way through puberty with a couple monsters thrown in.  Ned Vizzini is one of my favorite authors and I picked up this book without reading the summery so I had no idea the Creature & Caverns characters would actually become reality!  I thought this would be a feel good story of a RPG playing nerd trying to understand puberty, I mean it IS like that but with a fantasy world on the side.

Perry Eckert is a 15 year old New York dork.  With Creatures & Caverns and mathletes on the mind it’s no wonder he’s a ‘late bloomer’ and can’t get a girl.  His divorced parents, worried for the boy playing a RPG alone in his room, send him into the scary world of normal summer camp.  No math, no science, just a cabin and a lake.  Addicted to his game Perry can’t imagine weeks without it, but soon upon his arrival he spots a C&C character running through the woods! Perry can’t help but follow and finds himself in the World of the Other Normals, where everything is different but not. His companions might be human if you take away the frog head or the blue hair or the tail or the permanent glittery nail polish.  With his new friends Ada and Mortin he embarks on a quest to save a princess or just kiss a girl.

Perry is an incredibly awkward, cringe worthy pubescent boy.  I know, lots of books have that cute, awkward nerd with social problems but Perry takes it a step farther.  There were times when his humiliation was painful but being 15 is painful. Thinking back 2 years I know many a boy who can share his problems.  He starts off as a C&C loving loner and slowly becomes more and more socialable but retains the awkward.

I’m not a big fantasy nerd.  I don’t like Lord of the Rings or anything that takes place off earth or with unhuman characters.  I find it hard to picture the world or feel sympathy for any of the characters when taken away from a real world setting.  I ran into this problem a few times with the World of the Other Normals (precisely the underwater part and some of the creatures) but I wasn’t put off.  Vizzini did a good job creating this world and how it connects to ours.  Questions about Mortin’s capability to switch universes kept me enthralled in the Other Normal’s world.  Thankfully my questions were the same as Perry’s and unlike some other books he asks them and receives an answer!

I have to say one of the best things about this book was its pacing and jokes.  I read this book in less than a day.  I couldn’t put it down.   Between the embarrassments, questions and laughs I found myself done practically before I’d even started.  Along with the quickness, I found myself stopping to laugh or just gaping in shock at the craziness on the page many times.  There was one time where I legitimately stared at the words for a good minute with a shocked smile on my face (trust me you’ll know what I’m mentioning).   Though almost 400 pages long, to me it felt short and sweet and, while I probably won’t reread The Other Normals, I’m glad I read it.


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