Author: Ned Vizzini
Genre: YA, coming of age, contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy
Publication Date: September 25, 2012 (Balzer+Bray/HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a really fun tale for dudes by dudes!
Review: This one was fun, but there’s definitely a gender bias. But since there’s so few YA lit for guys by guys, in this case, I think that’s a good thing. “The Other Normals” is a tale of a tabletop RPG geek, coming of age, and trying to straddle both the worlds of being a child and being an adult – and being or going to be none of those things are easy. I think that the YA male audience is really going to hook into this one and relate a lot. Caution, there are a few spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t read the book yet/don’t want to be spoiled, tread carefully.
Vizzini manages to cram a lot into this one book – two worlds, a battle of good versus evil, and coming of age, to name a few. This isn’t heavy reading, though – Vizzini has managed to make this one of the most lighthearted books on the matter of what it means to be a teenager today. And while there’s some of the traditional tough stuff tropes thrown in to construct our MC Perry (divorce and bullying, to be specific), Perry is a pretty awesome MC who really manages to blossom and grow and by the book, by virtue of his character arc, is able to stand on his own two feet with pride, no longer fearing his peers. And that felt good to read.
What I kind of wanted more of was in the worldbuilding department of The World of the Other Normals – we’re transported there and back multiple times, and while it’s very rich in action and characters and generally a lot of fun, I just kind of wanted more. We do get important information on how the Other Normals’ world matches our world, and the use of the multiverse/M-Theory to help explain that really kind of impressed me. I hadn’t seen that coming. I also liked the idea of having “alternates” – your alternate self in the Other Normals’ world or on Earth. I absolutely loved the sheer diversity in the amount of races in the world of the Other Normals – it just got so creative and original that I really kind of wanted to stand up and cheer. However, I think that the connections to Earth could have been more clearly laid out – with the explanation of how Earth/Other Normals’ World works and with a certain character saying how the creators of C&C “got it all wrong”, it was a bit too fuzzy for me. I wanted a more explicit explanation there, as well as more than just one map (though I’m glad we got one!) of that world, since it seemed to be built upon itself in layers (which was an awesome idea).
In terms of characters, I feel like Perry grew the most, and the rest grew through their alternates in the World of the Other Normals. I kind of wanted more in terms of how these other main cast characters (Sam, Jake, etc) were growing in the human world instead of the simple interactions/explanations we did get whenever Perry crossed over to either world. While I won’t deny that this was an interesting way to grow characters, I still wanted more of a balance – it felt too much in the hands of the alternates, and while Vizzini really clearly lays out how alternates’ behavior affect each other in either world, I wanted a clearer delineation of character growth in both worlds. You are not always your alternate, even if your alternate’s behavior really heavily affects you. I also wanted on more on the female characters (Ada AND Anna) as I feel like they really got shortchanged in this book – though I will say that Ada did get more facetime than Anna did.
In terms of arcs, I think everything did flow fairly smoothly, though the transitions to the “changed” timeline each time Perry came back to Earth were, at points, a little clumsy. Sometimes parts of the plot felt very oversimplified, and there was a lack of tension – sometimes feeling like filler. However, the final fourth of the book really gave me the feeling that that’s where Vizzini hit his stride, and everything really came together then. And that’s always great to read.
Final verdict? There’s not much YA lit on RPG geeks, so this was a really nice change of pace of reading for me. It’s nice to see things written by dudes for dudes and giving them a bit of power in a largely female market. I really liked this one, though I wish it’d been a little bit better cleaned up. I’d still recommend it for those wanting to get out of the paranormal/contemporary rut that YA has gotten itself into because it really is a breath of fresh air in those areas. “The Other Normals” is out today from Balzer+Bray/HarperTeen in North America, so definitely be sure to check it out!