I don’t review books often. To me, an author reviewing another author’s books seems vaguely unethical. I have broken that rule of mine here for two reasons—I don’t write in this genre, and these are books that should have been—but weren’t—written by #OwnVoices authors. Both are a case for, at the least, a sensitivity reader before publication.
Not If I See You First
Let me begin by saying that Lindstrom is a pretty good writer, and he did a great deal right in this book, possibly more than most books written about a blind character by an author who isn’t blind. A few things taint the book.
Parker is the main character. We learn right away that she is blind and her father has recently died. We also learn that she goes out running by herself every morning. This is admirable, except for how she goes about it.
She leaves the house and walks a block plus crosses a street without using a cane. This is not only stupid, it’s dangerous. That she runs in an open field is probably okay, though, again, with no one around also seems a little foolhardy. Obstacles could be in her way that weren’t there the day before. But that’s the least of the issues.
Parker wears a scarf around her eyes like a blindfold. Besides looking freaky, it also is significant that she doesn’t seem to have accepted her blindness. She’s been blind for ten years, not ten months. If it’s such an issue, why isn’t she in counseling? Why isn’t she in counseling with the grief of losing her father?
Next, we learn she lives with her aunt and cousins. They moved across country so Parker doesn’t have to learn a new school or new house. We don’t know how they were able to make the move so quickly, and it’s probably not that important. What is important is that the assumption is that she wouldn’t be able to make the move because she’s blind. So do they also expect her to never go anywhere, to live in the same place all her life? She can’t learn a college campus or dorm? She can’t move into an apartment? By their thinking, she’s stuck because she’s blind.
Blind people move all over the country, even the world, going new places all the time and do just fine. To think we cannot is, frankly, an insult to ability and intelligence.
One thing I like about Parker is that she’s kind of blunt and snarky. I did laugh several times at how she confronts people. This is good. She’s not shy because of her blindness. She does talk about it.
She talks about it incorrectly. She says her eyes are closed. I looked this up because it’s not the first time I’ve read a book where the protagonist who is blind has her eyes closed.
For the most part, this is incorrect, from my research. People who have been blind all their lives, who have never seen, sometimes—emphasis on the sometimes—have their eyes closed because they never learned to open them. Most are taught to open them for societal norms. People who were once able to see still keep their eyes open even after they lose their sight. Parker could see for the first seven years of her life.
So, please, authors, do not propagate the myth that blind people have their eyes closed. Most do not.
Other myths Parker propagates:
She is easily startled by people coming up to her. Untrue. This is a myth. If we are grabbed we might jump, but we rarely startle just because someone comes up and talks to us. This one really annoys me. It makes blind people look like meek little rabbits or terrified of the world because we can’t see it. We’re not.
Parker counts steps. PLEASE stop this myth. Blind people may count steps such as up and down stairwells in a new place. Other than that, counting steps is impractical. Fatigue, different shoes, having to go around obstacles can all change the number of steps. And who wants to waste brain power on remembering how many steps to everywhere one goes? And what do people think we do in a new place?
Back to Parker’s eyes—at one point, she refers to them as being “dead” and “useless”. A newly blinded person might feel this way. Someone who has been blind a while does not. One’s eyes are just one’s eyes. My standard joke is that I’m blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other. I know no one from either my personal or professional life, even newly blinded people, who has ever thought of her eyes as being “dead”. They’re not dead. The connection to the brain has a problem or the retinas are damaged. If they are dead, they are removed and artificial eyes are inserted. A prosthesis that looks amazingly real. A dead eye is white and … dead looking. An eye that still has white sclera and a colored iris is not dead. Useless maybe.
In just plain storytelling, the plot is often rambling and incoherent. Parker has some emotional growth, but the attempt at a romantic conflict comes across as slapped in as an afterthought. Worse, the incident that drove Parker and Scott apart happened in eighth grade. Really? In four years you haven’t gotten over it? Sure it wasn’t nice what happened, but eighth grade boys do dumb things. Let it go for your mental health. And, really, they’d still be in love with one another after four years? They might be in love with what they remembered as love, but this stretches my credulity. Lindstrom would have done better to have it have been the year before. The whole situation would have been more understandable.
On the positive side, Parker is refreshing for a blind character, as she is not shy and self-effacing. Many other characters are great. Characterization is Lindstrom’s strong point, and, as a lover of YA fiction, I will probably try another one of his books. I just wish he had had a couple of real blind people read this one first, people who have been blind a while and accepted the condition as a characteristic and not a flaw.
Love And First Sight
I couldn’t find this book recorded by the National Library Service for the Blind, which speaks volumes on its own. NLS is quick to record any book with blind characters. Curious, as a librarian friend found this one for me, I began to read about the book and the author.
This seems like a novel intended to poke fun at blind people. The sixteen-year-old protagonist is in high school. It can’t be his first time in high school if he’s sixteen. He must be a junior or year late sophomore. Either way, unless he has been blind for a short time, he makes stupid mistakes even newly blinded people don’t make.
We don’t get the impression his blindness is new; therefore, I can only conclude that Sundquist is aiming for slapstick comedy at the expense of perpetuating many myths about the ineptness of blind people.
The kid gropes a girl on the steps. Unless he did it on purpose, no blind person with half a day of mobility training will do this. For one, his one hand should be holding a cane and the other at his side, not at a groping level. Next, if he brushes against a girl, he will pull away, not continue to touch unless he’s a creeper.
Next he sits on someone’s lap in the cafeteria. I have never heard of a blind person doing this. First of all, navigating cafeterias is notoriously difficult; therefore, most blind students get some kind of assistance. If they don’t think they need it, then they are far more careful than to sit on someone’s lap. Unless one is incompetent, one does not sit on a chair until one makes sure it’s free.
Again, Sundquist is saying blind people are stupid and incompetent.
So, the boy then makes a classmate cry. Not sure why without more than the book jacket says, and it’s inexcusable unless he’s an insensitive jerk. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s just unlikable.
So then his friends lie to him about girl he likes being pretty. Great friends. And of course, blind people can never have attractive partners. This is a common trope all through literature.
The final clincher is that the boy gets his sight back by some kind of miracle surgery. Of course. Another trope is that person can’t be happy blind, so must be healed to be a whole person.
What makes this whole thing appalling is that Sundquist has a disability himself. So why didn’t he write about a high school with that disability? Why does he have to mock another disability and then heal it as though being blind means your life is incomplete. Most people think all people with disabilities need to be healed to be complete and happy. We would like to stamp out this thinking, yet here is someone with disability playing right into it.
Next time, Mr. Sundquist, if you want to make fun of someone’s disability, pick on one for which you have actually done some research.