Writing is often hard. Right now I’m going through a difficult patch. I completed a first draft at the end of last year, and now I’m moving towards a second draft, as I mentioned last week. I have the story outline, and I’m listing scenes and working on what key actions happen in them: do they move the story on and do they really need to be there. I’m also reading for research (on being held hostage, in Africa, AND on the politics of aid and disability, if you have any recommendations.) But it’s strange. I like research, but I’m finding this intangible background searching a struggle. I want to be writing, making visible progress. So I’ve decided I’ll carry on like this through February and March, then in April I will push everything aside and start with my scene guide and a blank page and go for a second draft. In the past I’ve tweaked first drafts, made copious notes, and then stopped, but this will before the first total rewrite. I’m looking forwards to seeing what happens.
I don’t generally review YA, but I’m writing about sight loss so couldn’t miss out on the chance to see how another author has dealt with this. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom tells the story of Parker, a fifteen year old, and her journey as she comes to terms with the loss of her father. So far, so conventional in the genre. The twist is that Parker is blind.
I know something about sight loss, probably more than most people, but it’s because I’ve studied it rather than experienced it. I’ve written a book about it, in fact, Sight Loss: The Essential Guide. I’ve worked with people with sight loss from the age of 15, but I still am not entirely qualified to determine if Lindstrom has created an authentic piece, I don’t think anyone can truly understand sight loss without personal experience. Parker is, unlike most ‘blind’ people, entirely without sight: her optic nerves were severed in an accident when she was seven. The experience has left her spiky and defensive: she holds her close friends close, but has rules that she, and anyone who wants to be with her, have to live by. The rules run from one to eleven, plus there’s rule infinity.
Rule #1: Don’t deceive me. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.
Rule #2 explains how not to touch Parker without warning, rule #3 highlights not to move her stuff, because she needs to be able to find it, rule #4 says, ‘Don’t help me unless I ask.’ and so on. Rule infinity is slightly different: ‘there are NO second chances… betrayal is unforgiveable.’ And this is where things get interesting. Parker’s high school has recently combined forces with another school, throwing her back into contact with kids she hasn’t seen since middle school, including one, Scott, who broke rule #1, and in doing so, smashed rule infinity too. Parker hasn’t spoken to him since.
Parker is quirky, and she’d rather attack than defend: she uses words like weapons, and throughout the book she begins to realise how this can keep more people at arms length than she might intend. She meets a nice guy, Jason, goes on a first date, and rows with her best friend when she starts to doubt how much Sarah is sharing with her. Lindstrom does a good job of tapping into the teenage mind with all its insecurities, adding in a heaping of extra worries that surface when you can’t see what’s going on and rely on other people to fill you in.
The characters are authentic – new girl Molly who buddies with Parker as she shares the same classes, Parker’s cousins Sheila and Petey who have been moved from their home town as Parker’s aunt and uncle move to take care of her. The plot speeds along at the perfect pace as we watch her deal with tensions with Scott, and decide that maybe she had been harsh in cutting him out of her life all together back when they were thirteen.
So, I’d say that this is a good read, with a twist of something different. It could certainly get teen readers to think a bit more about sight loss, while being carried along by a good story. Not If I See You First costs from £7.99 at time of writing.
PS. Braille! Eric Lindstrom has liaised with the American Braille society in writing this book. There is Braille on the cover and in an end note. I reviewed the eBook, and I suspect that there may be a reason to get the print copy for the full experience. If you have the print copy and have checked out the Braille sections, let me know.