Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray 
Pages: 400
Received: ARC from publisher, via Edelweiss
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

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.


This book is weird

And that's kind of a good thing, but it's also kind of a bad thing. The weirdness made me feel giddy like when I've stayed awake too long and I've gone past tired and into the slightly deranged giggly mode where everything seems funny in a loopy sort of way. Which is fun, if you can let loose enough to just go with it and not over think things.

But it's also sort of annoying.

I wanted character depth and a plot I could sink deep into. I wanted something a little less superficial. I wanted to vicariously fulfill my dreams of getting to dive into my favorite fantasy books.  I wanted maybe even a smidgen of romance. And I didn't get any of that.

(Ok, there WAS a smidge of romance, but it did nothing for me.)

There was also this weird racial sub-plot running through the camp parts of the book that I didn't really get. Perry is the only white kid at a camp made up of mostly black kids who are basically described as gang members and delinquents.

Every time this was brought up, which was often, it felt like when someone makes a really awkward off-color joke in a place like work or church or some other Not Okay venue and you sort of laugh awkwardly while wishing you were anywhere but there.

WHERE is Gandalf?!

What really sold me on the idea of this book was the chance to see a normal real-world kid get to dive into a fantasy book world. It would be like the fantasy equivalent to how time travel puts a fun spin on historical fiction. I totally wanted to follow this kid as he brings his mix of modern knowledge into a world of fantasy he adores while also maybe good-naturedly poking fun at the genre.

Perry is all about his RPG Creatures & Caverns, which, based on the blurb, sounded to me a lot like every typical Lord of the Rings-rip fantasy land. And I wanted that! I didn't want some made up fantasy world! The creatures in Perry's game-turned-reality aren't like anything I've ever read about before.

There are half man half dog/frog/octopus/horse-ish creatures and other totally unique beings. Normally creativity like that would be great and all, but the whole reason I wanted to read The Other Normals was because I was hoping for the traditional. So, BIG disappointment.

And fine, usually I would still give some brownie points for coming up with unique beings despite my disappointment, but I didn't even like these creatures. Some seemed so similar to humans that I didn't see the point to them while others were just so weird they kind of made my skin crawl. None of them had depth. The world building was also too flimsy.

And then there's Perry

I did not like him. At all. He's not that unpopular guy who plays his fantasy RPG and is actually nice and fun to hang around. No, Perry is straight up weird. His characterization is over the top, and while I guess that goes along with the whole over the top tongue in cheek vibe of the book, it also made him come off as poorly developed.

He's a big whiner verging on trantrum-thrower and he's impulsive in a completely non-endearing way. At one point he does something so embarrassingly awful that it was painful to read. He went off the deep end and into "I'm slowly backing away from you now" territory. Maybe MG boys would relate with him more? I don't know. I obviously didn't.

As the book goes on and Perry gains confidence in himself he starts to lose his whiny do-nothing approach and take charge. I think this was supposed to be part of his "journey to manhood," but it seemed to me more like he was going off the rails. He struck me as less confident daredevil and more manic, impulsive, immature, and insane. 
Why didn't I DNF?

Because despite all that it was funny. I have to give it that. It was also very easy to read and I flew through it (was it really 400 pages?! That's a shock). The chapters are super tiny, so it's really easy to say, "Just one more chapter" and realize you've read four more chapters than you originally intended to read.

Also, I was curious to see what would happen and if things got any better. I don't think they did. If anything, I liked the first half where it was mostly set-up in the real world more than the second half where all the ridiculous adventuring sets in.

Who is this book for?

I'm not really sure. I would say it would appeal most strongly to middle grade boys, but I could see some parents getting angry with me if I actually gave it to their MG son. There are more curses than I would have expected and Perry is going through puberty so sex is often on his mind, though neither of these things are probably new to middle grade boys.

There is one scene where two disturbing things happen that I thought were pretty extreme for a middle grade audience. Maybe MG boys would be fine with it, but *I* wasn't even totally fine with it so I'd feel a little uncomfortable giving The Other Normals to them.

One of the juvenile dog creatures lures Perry and his friends into a trap so his pack can kill and eat them. When the pack arrives, the dog-kid wants to keep Perry as a pet and his pack murders and eats the dog-kid in response. They then murder and eat one of Perry's friends as they are running away. It was brutal. 

So I'm not really sure who I'd give it to. YA boys would probably find it too juvenile and I think girls might be turned off by the puberty guy-ishness. Or not. Maybe they'd appreciate the zaniness of it all more than I did. I rarely like zany.  

Bottom line

Erm, yeah, not for me.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about The Other Normals that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

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  1. After reading your review I have the strong suspicion that this book would totally not be my style either. In fact, I'm 99% certain that would be the case. Perry seems very unendearing and the weird, disturbing creatures even more so. And that spoilery scene sounds quite creepy (just generally, but especially for a MG book!) Will be passing on this one - thanks very much for the warning!

    Also, had to LOL at the "journey to manhood" remark...I take it Perry never got there? :D

  2. Well thank you for the honesty. I love how your put things. Great review.

  3. kind of put off after reading that spoiler (shouldn't have, but I couldn't help it!). I really wanted to read this, and now I'm not sure... I'll wait for more reviews though.

    Great review!

  4. Well, I guess you can't love them all. I didn't request this one from Edelweiss it sounds like its a good thing I didn't. A long read and not really my style I don't think. Thanks for your honest review.

  5. That makes it sound really weird!
    I read another review (I think from Aylee) and it sounded awesome, but the way you describe pretty I don't think I would like him, plus the spoiler thingy? yeah that's a bit too hard core for me.

    Thanks for the review.

  6. Lol. I wasn't interested in this one but then I heard how funny it was and thought maybe I'd give it a try. Then, I saw your review and now I'm once again thinking it's probably not for me. I'm not a fan of over the top, weird characters in general. Thanks for the review, Small!

  7. Yeeahh, I definitely had to have a moment while reading this one where I consciously decided I would try to forgive some of the sillier things and plot holes because everything about this book was just SO ridiculous and weird and it really wasn't supposed to be taken really seriously. I still would have liked to see more world development though, for sure.

    For the record though, I really DID enjoy Perry and the book overall - not really sure what this says about me as a person. But my bf liked it, too. So maybe the audience this one is best suited for is immature, nerdy 20-somethings. I thought it was a riot! I really appreciated Vizzini's sense of humour and definitely saw it more as that sort of outrageous, politically-incorrect brand that South Park and Family Guy do so well, so I was never offended. Just amused!

  8. I totally agree that The Other Normals is weird, and I was also torn in my review on what to rate it. I ended up giving it 3 stars and don't think it is for middle grade.


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