Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
Perry is a “late bloomer” according to his mother. This could refer to his woefully pre-pubescent body, and/or his obsession with role playing games, particularly Creatures and Caverns. While Perry resents this designation (“Late bloomer? I’m an RPG enthusiast. I’m an intellectual.”), he does nothing to fight the perception, diving in to a new Creatures and Caverns playbook like it’s as essential to his survival as food.
Perry finds a kindred spirit in Sam, a fellow RPGer he meets at Phantom Galaxy Comics, the “three-story nerd mother ship.” Now Perry has someone besides himself he can geek out with over characters and wild adventures. He’s no longer flying solo—life is good. His parents can’t possibly get on his case for being an immature and socially stunted RPGer now, right?
Wrong. Perry’s parents ship him off to Camp Washishka for the summer, in the hopes that he will camp his way out of arrested development. The first hours at the camp are disastrous—his Creatures and Caverns book is confiscated, he has an unfortunate run-in with a bully, he makes a fool of himself in front of a girl, and he encounters a bizarre and rather familiar creature in the bathroom. Perry follows this creature into the woods, because, come on, what else could go wrong?
What follows is a hilarious and strange adventure into the wold of the Other Normals, populated with characters that seem to come straight out of his Creatures and Caverns world. An interesting correlation between Earth and this Other Normal world means that Perry’s actions at camp could just save a world.
A Few Reasons The Other Normals Rocked:
Perry: A SERIOUSLY Unlikely Hero
What gamer wouldn’t want to the chance to actually be a hero IRL? The multiverse science in the story is as plausible at it can possibly be, and the adventures are fast-paced fun, mostly because it’s hilarious to watch a gaming fanboy try to apply his RPG knowledge and enthusiasm in a world made for it.
Guys going through the awkwardness of adolescence—particularly those who have wonkish, geekish obsessions like RPGs—will find this story closest to their hearts. I do not pretend to understand the inner mental life of a serious RPG gamer, but it’s not hard to be won over by Perry, in his earnest passion for Creatures and Caverns, his relentless social awkwardness, and his bravery in all worlds, real, imagined, or other normal.
SO Much Cringing
I don’t know if this makes me a horrible person, but I really, really enjoyed watching Perry make a fool of himself over and over again.
I absolutely refuse to spoil the Most Awkward Scene Ever (oh my god make it stop!), but this excerpt hints at the awkwardness of Perry’s daily existence. He’s at the camp co-ed dance, trying to figure out this whole moving your body to the music thing:
The music is simple: bumping noises and a high-pitched voice above. I move my pelvis to the let and right on each bumping noise. Someday someone is going to find this pelvis sexy or I’ll never have children. I test my feet, bringing one out and then back, moving one to the side and returning it. I control my body. Hips, legs, feet, arms. I can do incredible things with this body. I can do this.
I’m between a cluster of boys and girls. I keep my eyes straight ahead so I won’t make eye contact with anyone and ruin the moment. I dance—I really do. I put my neck into it. I whirl my head around, feeling my hair hit my forehead. The song says something about “1999″ and I realize this is Prince, the person Mortin Enaw mentioned! He makes it easy. I dip down, pushing out my knees in what I think is a bitchin’ dance move—
“Perry!” Sam hisses. He’s with a few people from our yurt, doing the boy-group dance. “What are you doing?”
“No, no, hold up. Relax. You’re embarrassing us!” He nods ahead and I see who I’m embarrassing him in front of: six members of Oasis Villa dancing in a circle, looking at me like I’m a large warm-blooded grasshopper. “Just move your hips.”
“I started with my hips!”
“Stick with them! Don’t be throwing your arms around—you look like you’re being electrocuted!”
(~excerpt taken from an ARC , wording may have changed)
Oh, Perry, you sad sad dancing fool.
Perry consistently misunderstands social cues, makes the wrong choice in nearly every situation, and is judged mercilessly for it. It’s so endearing, it made me feel really bad for laughing at him. (But it didn’t stop me. *twirls villain moustache*)
Absurdity in YA Lit
If you suspend your disbelief, go with the bizarre turns the plot takes, and allow yourself to laugh, The Other Normals is an undeniably enjoyable read. It has that special sauce brand of hilarity/absurdity found in Libba Bray’s Going Bovine and Douglas Adams’ Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, and and you’ll frequently wonder, “What the hell did I just read?”
I wish we could have MORE absurd and hilarious books in YA lit. They are hard to pull off, but SO satisfying when done well. This book is definitely in good company.