Recommended for ages 8-12
Taking place in Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide universe, readers get to hang out with Ryder, also known as Richie Raymond, in Beth Vrabel’s A Blind Guide to Normal. Ryder is leaving Addison, the school for the blind we were introduced to in A Blind Guide to Stinkville, to head to “normal” school for eighth grade. The thing is, at Addison, Richie was the Big Man on Campus. With his jokes about his prosthetic eye and ability to find a witty comeback for every situation, he was the King of the Hill at Addison. In a mainstream school, it’s starting all over again – and to add to the chaos, he and his mom are moving in with his grandfather while his dad is off studying buffalo. Gramps has a very strange sense of humor, and his cat, General MacCathur, can’t stand him. On his first day of school, Ryder finds himself enrolled in a Quilting class (thanks, Grandpa!), making his bio teacher pass out, and putting himself at odds with the town hero, Max. Forget about fitting in – can Ryder get through the school year as the school punchline? He’ll need some help from his best friend Alice and, unbelievably enough, Gramps, to find out.
Less of a sequel and more of a companion to Blind Guide to Stinkville, Blind Guide to Normal is every bit as great to read as any Beth Vrabel book. Yes, I’m a Vrabel fangirl, and with good reason: she creates characters that I love. They tend to have a sarcastically upbeat outlook, which I can appreciate, and so do many of the kids I talk to in a given day. Her villain here isn’t even a villain, it’s just someone who Max starts off on the wrong foot with, and Max’s gift to see himself descending into car wreck territory but not being able to stop it is so refreshingly normal – how many times have you just not been able to stop talking when you know you’re just making things worse? – that you’ll laugh with embarrassed relief that you’re not alone. I was happy to see Alice again; her FaceTime conversations with Ryder provide a nice, familiar anchor for both Ryder and us readers. His relationship with his grandfather is a great subplot that I hope reaches kids who just don’t get their own grandparents, who they may see as weird or old-fashioned.
I hope Beth Vrabel finds more ways to bring us back to this group of friends. There’s a lot of great diversity in kid lit these days, and Vrabel’s ability to address disability with the suppressed emotion that spills over into a Don Rickles-like wit adds a spark to the expanding dialogue. Get this one and give it to your Blind Guide to Stinkville readers, sure, but also hand this one to your Wimpy Kid readers and tell them that Ryder and Greg would, in the ultimate literary multiverse, probably get along just fine.