By Awnali Mills
Richie “Ryder” Raymond has spent the last several years in a school for the blind although, technically, he isn’t blind. He lost one eye to cancer, and the other has less than optimal vision. But nothing ever gets Ryder down: he finds the humor in every situation. He feels confident that his move to a “normal” school is going to go great. After all, he’s the most popular guy at his current school! Everyone loves him! He’s hilarious!
His practical joker grandfather signs him up for an elective he NEVER would have chosen, he immediately makes an enemy of the nicest, most popular guy in school, and almost kills his homeroom teacher. All this while looking ridiculous to the most beautiful girl in school, who is also his next door neighbor.
And he thought this “normal” stuff was going to be easy…
I really enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, it’s a diverse book. It’s great to read about a child who has a disability. Ryder acknowledges his differences, but doesn’t dwell on them. The kids around him have mixed reactions to his disability, and he uses it as a way of trying to gain acceptance. For instance, he makes a bunch of eye jokes to try and break the ice. It’s debatable whether this is the best approach to dealing with a disability, but it’s the one that Ryder choses. Sometimes it works for him, and sometimes it doesn’t. Vrabel demonstrates that differently abled doesn’t translate to disabled, especially as Ryder encounters people who use their own weaknesses to best others.
Secondly, I enjoyed this book because it’s funny. Ryder is genuinely humorous and doesn’t take himself or his issues too seriously.
Thirdly, I liked that there were lots of different issues that people were dealing with—Ryder’s was just the most obvious. Several of the characters grow and change and learn how to cope with the things that life has handed them, and those are terrific lessons for kids to learn.
Put this book into the hands of 3rd to 5th graders. It’s funny, it’s deep, and it teaches empathy and inner resourcefulness, as well as the importance of working through your feelings instead of burying them. As a bonus, it also has a strong female character even though the book has a male lead. It hits all the right buttons!