The unlikely hero in Ned Vizzini's young adult fantasy novel, The Other Normals is Perry Eckert, a 15-year-old boy with divorced parents, an alcoholic older brother, and few friends. He is terrified of girls. While other boys his age are developing into young men with deepening voices and growth spurts, Perry's body stubbornly refuses to kickstart the puberty process. He's teased at school, and has been given the nickname Tiny Pecker. Because his life sucks, it's not surprising that Perry frequently retreats into a fantasy world fueled with sword & sorcery roleplaying games. But because he has almost no friends, Perry plays the games by himself.
As the saying goes, nothing's so bad that it can't get worse, and when summer rolls around, Perry's parents ship him off to a summer camp for 8 weeks. The kids at the camp dislike Perry even more than the kids at his school, and they either shun him or pick on him. And when the camp staff takes away the gaming manual he'd brought along, Perry has nothing to look forward to.
The remaining 350 pages of The Other Normals would be depressing if not for the fact that a red skinned humanoid with yellow hair and a tail runs past a window that Perry happens to be looking out of. Perry goes outside and meets the creature, who speaks English and is addicted to smoking pebbles, which make him stoned. The creature's name is Mortin Enaw, and Perry learns that Enaw comes from another dimension. Enaw leads Perry into the woods and he activates the portal (made from mushrooms connected to a car battery) that allows them to enter the World of the Other Normals. Perry finds himself in a real sword and sorcery world, just like the one in his confiscated gamer's manual. He also learns that his assistance is needed to save the World of the Other Normals. This appeals to him, because he would rather battle loathsome half-men/half monsters on a strange planet than deal with the shunners, bullies, and girls at camp. Unfortunately for Perry, his assignment requires him to return through the portal to Earth to kiss one of the girls at the camp. What follows is an enjoyable adventure story that moves back and forth between Earth and Enaw's world as Perry attempts to control escalating situations on both sides of the portal.
Vizzini's story reminded me of Rudy Rucker's novels, which often have silly, almost cartoonlike, nonhuman characters, but portray human relationships, struggles, and desires in a realistic and engrossing way.
I interviewed Ned Vizzini on Gweek in September 2012. Listen to it here.