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Reviews Mon Oct 20 2014

Blind's Self-Pitying Narrator is Tough to Love

If you speak to any sighted person, becoming blind later on in life is an utterly devastating proposition. They would have no idea how blind people cope, how organizations thrive to better our lives, or how we could overcome so many mundane challenges in a single day. Blind by Rachel DeWoskin is an assumptive story that is a calming, engrossing read that doesn't hold many answers about how blind people -- such as myself -- accurately or factually live life but houses a wonderful plot and premise beneath stellar writing.

When your life as you know it is taken from you, how do you go on?

Imagine this: You are fourteen, watching the fireworks at a 4th of July party, when a rocket backfires into the crowd and strikes your eyes, leaving you blind. In that instant, your life is changed forever. How do you face a future in which all your expectations must be different? You will never see the face of your newborn sister, never learn to drive. Will you ever have a job or fall in love? This is Emma's story. The drama is in her many small victories as she returns to high school in her home town and struggles to define herself and make sense of her life, determined not to be dismissed as a PBK — Poor Blind Kid.

blind by rachel dewoskinEmma is the narrator of this story. She is the person who readers have to like and understand through an unfolding first person tale. She is the one who gives stunning commentary about the world of blindness. She is the voice through whom readers learn what's happening via stretches of internal monologues about being blind and how it royally stinks beyond anything in the whole wide world, albeit caked in epically crafted similes and metaphors. It's without a doubt that Emma is the book's biggest strength as well as its biggest weakness. Emma is really hard to pay attention to because she isn't likable. Simply put, her attitude made it a chore to finish this book.

The story rests on top of a really educational and inspirational premise. The idea of growing up and taking care of the thoughts and feelings that matter to yourself as well as other people. The plot is an easy to follow, stretched out, coming of age story that's very easy to appreciate. Enjoying this plot and premise, however, is a painful task because Emma shifts the mood of any scene into an ill sort of depressive state with her thoughts.

Emma is a constant whiner. Emma is a constant complainer. Emma is constantly stuck up. Emma is constantly doling out the poor blind kid mantra that she, ironically, tries to avoid. Emma hates a lot of things, and I mean a lot of things, including but not limited to conversations, tones of voice, helping hands, being alone, sighted technology, blindness technology, and many, many, many, other things. The theme and point of the story is about growing up and learning how to deal with abysmal perceptions and unfortunate events, so Emma definitely has the right kind of mindset to allow for a steady plot progression, but it is, ironically, hard to stick with what she says and observes, especially after the billionth time she observes that she will not be able to fall in love, drive, live on her own, read normally, have friends, and many, many, many, many, more things that pertain to her losing her vision and never being able to get it back. What's worse is there isn't another character who tells Emma to either shut up or get over it. Instead, everyone sympathizes with her.

One thing that redeems Blind is the amount of research put into the blind school portrayal and blind technique portrayal. Emma goes to her local school for the blind where there's a nice group of diverse blind students who accurately represent how vast our views and perceptions and skill sets are. Everything looks worse than it actually is because we're viewing everything through her angry, pitiful, eyes. Other characters suffer because of this, because we have to learn about them through Emma. Her filtered perceptions make them seem worse off than they actually are — at first, the kids at the school are fun, outgoing people who just happen to be blind, but they're turned into just blind people by Emma.

If the theme were different, I would not even finish the book because Emma emphasizes it a bit too much with her constant whining and attitude. Unfortunately, Emma has to be this way so the theme can play out as the author intended. Emma has to be this way so the plot would make sense, so the plot can be justified.

The writing style thankfully doesn't add to the miserable experience of listening to Emma think or speak or interact with others. The writing is the best thing about the book and the only thing that made Emma's self-pitying narration tolerable, with beautifully poetic descriptions about being blind; sharp, dashingly insightful descriptions of environments and people and perceptions; droll dialog that patches up the whining monologues with fun, carefree, interactions; and deeply poetic musings about the what-ifs of the world. The accurately portrayed moments of braille lessons, mobility lessons, cane travel, and technology and phone usage are also very refreshing since other sighted authors never articulate those aspects correctly. It's refreshingly comforting and provides a solid backdrop to incorrigible Emma along with the few times she interacts with others and actually focuses on the moment and not her lost sight, wishing she could drive or see. The audiobook's narrator, Annalie Gernert, makes this all worth listening to, providing just the right fervor with each description or musing.

The plot is the other aspect that makes Blind tolerable. It is a really smooth plot that progresses gradually and provides satisfactory closure inside a chaotic perceptive world. It starts off smoothly, racing parallel with the mystery of a girl's suicide and chugs along to a conclusively punctual finale. Since the plot and the writing style mesh seamlessly throughout the tale, the painful journey has a lot of redeeming moments in it. Those redeeming moments, however, didn't occur often enough for me to enjoy the book. They appear just long enough to enjoy the wonderful sentence at the beginning of the book or an epically poetic simile at the along the way, enhanced by the audiobook's narration.

Even with beautifully crafted words, stupefyingly real side characters, a solid theme that should be heard loud and clear by the masses, the protagonist ruins all of this by her constant whining and wishing that she would get her site back. The redeeming golden gems of researched portrayals, the elegantly articulated feelings of friends and family, and the other truly stunning moments are all killed off by a narrator who just doesn't know how to shut up and deal with what life gives you. Blind has some wonderful talent dotting the chapters but the painful agony of listening to the main character doesn't justify the drudgery of waiting to get to the good stuff. Ironically, if Emma were not in this book, relaying her depressive outlook on life every few minutes, this book could be one I'd recommend, but since Emma drowns the pages in so much sorrow and anger, Blind is far from a tolerable read.

 
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