Review: A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel


I loved loved loved A Blind Guide to Stinkville, and so there was no way I was going to miss out on the sequel, which proved to be very satisfying on many levels. (Both of these books are YA, by the way, for grades 5-7 I would guesstimate.)

First, I understand why many authors use alternating narrators, but frankly it just confuses me and makes the story choppy and less engaging. Beth Vrabel is so clever that she didn’t need to use alternating narrators, because she used Alice as the narrator for book one and Richie Ryder as the narrator for this book. Presto: The benefits of alternating narrators without the abrupt shifts every chapter! 

Second, and I’ve said this about Vrabel’s other books, I just love when the book reflects the personality of the narrator/protagonist. I was so annoyed with Richie Ryder and his jokes and stupid way he had with people. He really got under my skin! I didn’t want to keep reading at one point… and THEN I realized that it was Beth Vrabel’s awesome writing talent making me feel that way. It was like she was channeling Richie across dimensions. (Beth, do you tesser?!)

My most favorite facet of A Blind Guide to Normal wasn’t the fabulous karate competition or the yard horse or even Richie Ryder’s heartfelt friendships with quilting classmates and Alice and Jocelyn and Max. The best part of the book for me was the ending, where everyone figures out that fear is pretty much the ONLY thing that’s normal, and where Beth Vrabel again writes a book within a book. 

-calliope

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Review: A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel

  I’m not exactly a YA reader. I like realistic fiction with protagonists my own age – I can just relate better, you know? But A Blind Guide to Stinkville reeled me in. I was laughing in Chapter One. I was invested by Chapter Three. I was bawling my eyes out in Chapter Seventeen… but that’s for later in this review. 

Alice moves across the country and, like the rest of her family, is having a hard time adjusting. Besides the friend factor and the school factor, Alice has some physical challenges that were much easier to handle when everyone in her old town had known her since she was born. In Stinkville, Alice has to learn how to do things without the predictable help of those around her. 

I am SO IMPRESSED with Vrabel’s consistent pace and even-keeled writing. Alice could be barely holding it together, or the girl in the library could have just revealed something astonishing, or a new friend could be just as mean as the old friend just was… and Vrabel writes it all very matter-of-factly, like none of these things are the end of the world. No melodrama, here. No way. And that’s totally refreshing in a world of melodramatic teenagers and melodramatic teenage books. 

I know that when my children read Stinkville, they will accept the characters and their idiosyncrasies without batting an eyelash. They will understand that differences are No Big Deal. And maybe they’ll realize that all the things they’ve been practically fainting about in their real lives are also No Big Deal, because, hey, Alice got through much more challenging circumstances with far less indignity. 

I am also excited for my children to read Stinkville so they might be eager to be more independent, be inspired to find their way around their town (literally and figuratively), and be able to navigate new situations with grace and purpose. 

So, Chapter Seventeen. Well, I had just taken a break after reading the first sixteen chapters, and I was ready to settle in for two wonderful last chapters – my favorite chapters in any book. Beth Vrabel threw me for a loop and wrote something so funny and so heartbreaking that I choked out a laugh and then proceeded to cry my head off. I cried and laughed until I finished the book. I’m a mom, and I get emotional when I read about children struggling – or in this case, overcoming their struggles so well that my heart fills up. 

Everything in A Blind Guide to Stinkville seems so real that I want to say You Can’t Make Up This Stuff. But Vrabel did. She put her imagination together with her experiences to create something so wonderful that I need to read it again. 

Oh, and that Blind Guide that Alice wrote? Stories within a story are brilliant, Beth Vrabel. Add me to your fan club. 

-calliope

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