Fifteen-year-old late-bloomer (and still yet-to-bloom) Perry “Mini Pecker” Eckert is obsessed with the role-playing game Creatures & Caverns. Despite the fact that he has no friends who play—he has, sadly, no friends at all—he reads the rulebooks compulsively and fills in character sheet after character sheet after character sheet. His parents—divorcees who only interact with their sons through lawyers, making for some hilarious-yet-depressing moments—decide that enough is enough, and ship him off to a summer camp where gaming is not allowed.
But shortly after his arrival at Camp Washiska Lake, Perry discovers that there’s something way better than gaming: the real thing. See, the world of C&C is based on a real place. There’s a portal to The World of the Other Normals nearby, and according to two denizens of said World—a humanoid with bright-red skin and a prehensile tail, and a super-attractive girl with elf ears and naturally sparkly toenails—it’s up to Perry to save their world... by kissing a girl from the camp across the lake.
Bookshelves of Doom on Graham McNamee's spooky YA thriller, 'Beyond: A Ghost Story.'
Perry would rather go on a suicide mission in a fantasy world than attempt to put his non-existent social skills to the test. As it turns out, he might end up doing both.
For those who think that the plot sounds suspiciously like that old Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon, you aren’t alone. My husband said exactly the same thing. I’ll repeat to you what I said to him: The whole fantasy-world-is-actually-real thing? It isn’t remotely new*, but that doesn’t stop The Other Normals from being enormously fun. And by now you should have some faith in Ned Vizzini, anyway, as he hasn’t turned out a bad—or even mediocre—book yet.
The Other Normals isn’t an exception to the rule. It’s fast-paced, funny and exciting, so much so that I read all 387 pages in one sitting. It stars a hero who’s very aware of his own weaknesses and quick to shriek when scared or injured, but who’s also very willing to put himself in the line of fire to help his friends. He’s massively insecure and self-conscious; Perry's nervous about making social missteps, but also incredibly prone to making them: One was so excruciating that I yelled, “Nooooooooooooo!”** when I realized what he was about to do. (A film version of the book is inevitable, and I will be sorely disappointed if that moment isn’t filmed in slow-motion.)
Fans of multiverse-type stories will have lots of fun with this one, as the mechanics of the connections between the worlds are really, really cool. Every person in our world corresponds with a person in the Other World, and actions taken by one—regardless of home world—have an effect on the other. So as Perry bounces back and forth between worlds, life as he’s always known it—his personal history, even—changes. Wicked cool.
Fans of smart, off-the-wall fantasy stories will enjoy this for sure, but I’ll also be recommending it to fans of more straightforward contemporary YA. Though it has fantasy trappings, this book is, at heart, a story about a guy finding his place in the world and beginning to figure out what it means to be a man.
**Yes, out loud.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.