When Ryder graduates from the Addison School for the Blind, he and Artie—his artificial eye, courtesy of cancer—look forward to being normal, whatever that is.
Wisecracking, white Ryder is forced to stay with his eccentric, equally sarcastic grandfather when his parents, both avid research biologists, accept new assignments. His arrival at Papuaville Middle School is a shock—to the teacher he causes to faint and the semibully he inadvertently provokes. Fortunately, crushing on white, tough-but-wounded Jocelyn and wielding his increasingly desperate sense of humor help him to withstand bullies, distant parents, and cringeworthy good intentions. Karate classes provide an outlet, humor, and further character development, and a surprise quilting class provides surprising insight. Readers may groan at Ryder's jokes, but the pranks he pulls with his narration are great fun, calling out "very special episode" clichés and blindness stereotypes. But the "relentless positivity" trope is dismantled with care as Ryder interacts with equally vulnerable characters and sees his clowning for the defense mechanism it often is—and acknowledges the anger it's masking. Like Alice of the preceding A Blind Guide to Stinkville (2015), Ryder and his family and friends all experience disorientation—this time from the shock of moving forward as well as away—and learn how to grieve in their own ways.
As Ryder might say, Vrabel has an eye for sympathetic, offbeat characters—and a knack for feel-good resolutions. (Fiction. 9-12)