Friday, March 11, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

I am excited to introduce what will be my first book of 2016 that I believe could be nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award come November. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom is about Parker, a blind teenager trying her best to navigate adolescence after a recent loss. Though Parker's assertion on the book jacket that she is like everyone else but smarter made me fear that I was in for a long ride with an unlikable narrator, I still went with it.

The Situation: Because of her situation, Parker has a few rules. For the most part, they are simply asking that people use their common sense when they are around her. For starters, she is blind, not deaf, so there is no reason to shout when talking to her. Also, don't touch her without asking because it may cause her to be surprised and react accordingly. And don't enter or leave her area without saying something, because how else is she going to know who is around. But the common sense rules all come after the all-important rule #1: Don't deceive her. Ever. Especially using her blindness. Especially in public. Break this rule and you are essentially dead to her. One person in Parker's life broke this rule, and she hasn't spoken to him since. Most people break at least one of the common sense rules at one point or another, especially when they first meet her. But Parker is always ready - almost too ready - to let people know what they did wrong or how they've failed her. She will offer a thorough explanation as to how you fell short, most likely making you feel stupid in the process. Not surprisingly, Parker's circle of friends is incredibly small, but they are all loyal to her, and she is loyal to them.

The Problem: Parker's father died only three months ago, and since her mother died years before, in the same car accident that took Parker's sight, her aunt has moved into her house along with her husband and two children. And as if there hasn't been enough recent change in her life, Parker's high school has also recently merged with another one, not only bringing in a whole new crowd of people who don't know the rules, but also the guy who broke rule #1 back in middle school. Since she is blind, she is never able to see him coming, never knows if he is around, and couldn't possibly avoid him if she tried. Avoiding her angry and angsty cousin Sheila will also prove difficult as she now lives under the same room as Parker after being forced to leave her own home, life, and friends behind. Beyond keeping on top of school work and offering somewhat unsolicited advice to classmates, Parker focuses on not crying over her dad, and calling every day that she doesn't a victory. But while Parker does her best to not let her blindness hinder her ability to see people, she quickly begins to learn that there is plenty she isn't seeing, and it has nothing to do with her sight.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that follows Parker Grant, a junior in high school who lost her eyesight at the age of seven. As the first-person narrator, Parker is less than endearing, at least at first. She is rude, condescending, a bit bitter, and smug, all under the justification that people don't know how to behave around a blind person. And while that may be true, it has certainly alienated her from most people. But she still has Sarah and Faith, and new girl Molly proves to also be trustworthy as well as a quick study with the rules. But as the novel goes on, and Parker understands more and more just how wrong she has been, she softens up considerably and isn't quite as hard to be around. Ultimately, what Parker seems to value more than anything is honesty, and also information. If you tell her truth, even when it's ugly, things go much smoother than if you try to hide anything. Plus, it is likely she'll find you out anyway. When it appears that anyone is holding onto any information, Parker becomes anxious, and that anxiety eventually builds up into anger. But without sight to guide her, it is understandable why Parker would get antsy when it is obvious someone isn't being entirely truthful about what is going on. Trust is everything, and with it, Parker's blindness actually isn't that much of a problem.

My Verdict: This is a fantastic premise with fairly strong characters and an even stronger narrator. Parker does not suffer fools, but she also belittles them and makes sure they know they're fools. In other words, she isn't exactly the easiest person to be around, or read about. Thankfully the brutally tough act doesn't last throughout the whole novel. Any issues I have with the book have more to do with its structure than anything else. Parker rubs many people the wrong way, and while I didn't expect for her to end up being best friends with every person she encountered, I at least expected something that showed where she stood with everyone in the end. Some characters completely fizzle out without a mention, while others are prominent in one area, but nowhere to be found during certain events where it would make since for them to show up. Some of the conversations feel unrealistic to what teenagers would say to each other, or even to someone else, with a few of them going on longer than what the situation would realistically allow. All of this to say that I did enjoy the book, but there were elements that distracted me from the overall storytelling, which actually was not bad at all. 

Favorite Moment: When Parker is approached about running for the track team. Despite being blind, she is incredibly fast and would make a great sprinter. 

Favorite Character: Even though Molly is a new addition to Parker's world, she catches on quickly and is able to throw back whatever Parker dishes out. She isn't scared off, and quickly becomes one of the few within Parker's small circle of friends.

Recommended Reading: Mosquitoland by David Arnold. It includes another first-person narrator that, due to her past, others have a hard time interacting with and can be difficult to be around. 

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