I’m reviewing an ARC sent to me by the author (!) I’ve been a fan of Ned Vizzini since I was in high school, and I feel so lucky to be have been able to get this review copy. Thank you, Ned. And thank you, Eti, for just being awesome as always. The finished book comes out today.
This book stands out from Vizzini’s other books for me because it involves a lot more fantasy. But, like his other more contemporary novels, he writes very real, believable characters. And while I swoon for a lot of the male characters written in the typical YA fantasy, there’s a part of me that always knows these love interests are impossible. Even the characters with tails and sparkly nails (that are not painted that way) in The Other Normals, just have this feeling of realness to them.
Any way, it’s about Perry, a guy obsessed with the made up RPG (roll playing game), Creatures and Caverns. Too bad for him, his parents seem really intent on sending him to an overnight summer camp, where he will have to socially interact with real people as compared to the made up characters he creates in game. Perry doesn’t really have any friends, his parents refer to him as a late bloomer, and the only person he genuinely seems to interact with (besides a sometimes friend who plays Creatures and Caverns with him, next to an Emergency Exit) is his brother who has a drinking problem.
On the first day at camp, Perry’s Creatures and Caverns supplies (one giant book and one pewter figurine) get confiscated and Perry gets into a fight with a gang member. And just as it seems nothing will ever go right for poor Perry, he sees a creature he knows to only exist in his game. Perry than follows the creature (aka: Mortin Enaw) into the Land of the Other Normals, where he meets some good friends, goes on adventures, and learns that to save a princess in that world which would in turn stop a lot of violence from happening, he will need to be brave in the real world. He will have to actually kiss the girl he had just met before traveling to the World of the Other Normals, in order to save the princess.
Apparently people in the world Perry has grown up in correspond to people in the World of the Other Normals, and what you do in one world effects how things work in the other. Between learning how to socially interact in his world and trying to get a certain girl (who corresponds with the princess) to kiss him, Perry goes back and forth between worlds and problems. He and his friends never seem to manage to stay safe long in the World of the Other Normals. There’s a lot of captures, there’s magical creatures (with fish heads and human bodies or dog heads and human bodies and so forth), there’s prison scenes, camping trips, people barbeques, whorehouses, and friends with substance abuse problems (in the form of pebbles).
And then in the “real” world, Perry deals with standing out as the one white, nerdy guy at camp. There’s a lot of fighting (sometimes with war hammers and sometimes with knives). There’s also a lot of teen boy thoughts! Perry definitely sounds like a real teenage boy with real sexual thoughts. And there was this great mixture of fantasy elements on top of the realistic ones. I loved all the times Perry would compare his life to the game he played. He kept giving himself numbers for what he though his strength would be or his honor would be, as characters are ranked in RPGs. I loved how going to the World of the Other Normals spiked Perry’s confidence in his own world. I mean he legitimately learned how to carry himself, how to make friends, how to talk to girls, how to fight, and how to really grow up because of his experiences with the World of the Other Normals (and the game).
I also loved that when it came down to kissing the princess, he actually didn’t want to (though I won't tell you if he did or not)! He didn't want to because he was too head over heels for a different girl. I loved how quickly Sam was willing to believe what was happening to his friend, and I loved how real all the side characters, like Sam, were too. They helped make this whole story work as well as it did. Also, the language was spot on! This author is definitely not afraid to talk like a teen or make teenagers look bad at certain points; he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And again this just adds to that realness.
It took me a little while to get into it in the beginning. I think this is because it took me a little while to like Perry. I immediately felt sorry for him. How can you not feel bad for a kid who plays an RPG by himself in a stairway? But, he was a little to naïve/ignorant of things for me to actually like him. However, as the story goes on and Perry learns more about actual people, I grew to love him as a main character, and once I loved him, I couldn’t put the book down. His willingness to eventually see that there were a lot of things he needed to learn made him so much more likeable.
I also really, really love that someone has finally written a book for gamers! I seriously think there is a giant underrepresented group of teens in YA literature. I knew so many teens growing up who could have been Perry. I do think those not familiar with this bit of teen culture might not understand everything. I already read someone refer to Creatures and Caverns as an online game, which is not how I saw it at all. I saw it as another Dungeons and Dragons.
While I feel like there will inevitably be some misunderstandings with an older crowd, I’m glad Vizzini didn’t over describe things like character sheets and the logistics of these kinds of games because a lot of the young people who will be reading this, and hopefully be drawn to this, will already know that stuff. And too much detail in that respect can be an easy way to loose young people.
All in all I thought this was such a fun read! I loved the mixing of fantasy and contemporary fiction. I loved that it was about a gamer. The characters were amazing. It took me a little time to really like the main character, but I eventually grew to think of him as awesome too. This gets a 9/10 from me.