‘A Blind Guide to Normal’ by Beth Vrabel is a touching middle grade novel about tragedy, friendship, family and humor

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In “A Blind Guide to Normal,” Beth Vrabel investigates the scars that events leave on lives, the scars that we see as well as the ones that we can’t see but which are just as painful.

In “A Blind Guide to Normal,” Richie Ryder Randolf and his mother move in with his grandfather when his father gets a job researching buffalo in a remote part of Alaska where there are no schools for Ryder to attend. Ryder and his mother move to Washington, DC, into the house in which his father grew up.

Ryder had attended a school for the blind, where his best friend was Alice, who was the main character in “A Blind Guide to Stinkville.” Ryder is not blind, but he lost one eye as a young child because of cancer, which means that he has no vision in one eye. His other eye has limited vision. His mother gets a job researching in a lab so that she can be with Ryder at his grandfather’s house.

When they arrive at their new home, both Ryder and his mother are shocked to find that the home is pristine 1970’s, inside and out. His grandfather, also, dresses as if the 1970’s styles never went out of fashion. His grandfather has never recovered from the loss of his wife years earlier. The other resident of the house is an extremely feisty cat named General.

Ryder’s parents are deeply in love, but at times, he feels left out. When his dad leaves them to take the job thousands of miles away, he feels abandoned. When he sees how grumpy and curmudgeonly his grandfather is, Ryder understands their estrangement.

Ryder befriends Jocelyn, a beautiful neighbor with issues of her own. She has a tragic past, but it takes a while for Ryder to discover what that is. Her boyfriend doesn’t like Ryder’s apparent interest in his girlfriend, and problems ensue.

Vrabel captures the pain of families dealing with loss — the loss of a wife, a brother, even an eye. Ryder deals with his pain by making jokes about everything, all the time. Readers discover that his humor is his way of dealing with loss — the loss of his eye, the loss of his traveling parents, any pain that he feels.

As with “A Blind Guide to Stinkville,” Vrabel creates real, sympathetic characters with whom readers will connect. It’s a wonderful choice for those who love realistic fiction, and this would be a great class read aloud or book for group discussion.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Sky Pony Press, for review purposes.

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