A Blind Guide to Normal, by Beth Vrabel (Sky Pony Press, October 2016, middle grade) is a companion to A Blind Guide To Stinkville. It's the story of a very minor character in that book, a boy named Ryder, who leaves the sheltered world of a boarding school for the blind, where his sense of humor had made him well-liked, to live with his mother at the home of his paternal grandfather. His dad was supposed to be there too, but got a wildlife biology opportunity far off in the northern wilderness that was too good to resist. The idea was that Ryder would get to lead a normal life of family and 8th grade at public school...the reality was that living with his grandfather without his father and with his mother neglecting him for her own work wasn't at all what "normal" was supposed to look like.
His grandfather's home is basically locked in the past; it's been kept exactly as it was when his grandmother died when her son was born (in the 1970s, which aren't a good time to be locked into). And the grandfather's only way to reach out is with his horrible sense of humor; little things like signing Ryder up for quilting class at school. Embarrassing. Awkward. Unlovable. And rather similar to Ryder in his use of humor as a coping mechanism.
Ryder himself isn't "normal." He lost an eye to childhood cancer, and the sight in his remaining eye isn't great, and he has to live not only with the visual difficulties but with the fear that the cancer might come back. And Ryder is not great at keeping control of his mouth. The first day at school he makes an enemy of the golden boy in town.... whose girlfriend (ish) Jocelyn, with her own burden of grief and guilt, Ryder starts crushing on something fierce.
It's a character driven book, so although there are things that happen (including a generous helping of martial arts training, which I enjoyed, even though martial arts aren't my own thing), the point is Ryder's emotional state and the emotions of those around him. By the end of the book, they have moved to a point where they can smash the past (at least partly) and face their fears. Although loss and uncertainty can't be vanquished just through character growth, peace and acceptance are possible, and welcome. It's not a surprise ending, but it's a welcome one. I enjoyed my time with Ryder and his grandfather and Jocelyn, and wish them well. If you are looking for a warm, hopeful, sometimes funny, sometimes squirm-inducing read, give this one a try.
disclaimer: review copy received from the author.