Blind had so much potential. There were times while I was reading that I was genuinely entertained and enjoying myself. Unfortunately, those times were outweighed by the serious inaccuracies. Of course, not every blind person is alike. What I have figured out to be easiest for me (for instance, squirting toothpaste directly onto my tongue) might give another person who is blind the heebie jeebies. So I came into the reading of this book with an open mind. Unfortunately, both the errors and the more minor inconsistencies kept me from relating to the protagonist.
At fourteen, Emma Silver was blinded in a fireworks accident. A year later, one of her friends from school dies by drowning. Emma and her friends decide the adults aren’t telling them enough, so they try to figure out the death on their own.
I went blind when I was twenty-nine from multiple sclerosis. So much of Emma’s journey rang true for me: the crushing fear, the what-ifs, and most of all, the identity crisis. I didn’t go through losing my vision as a teen, so I can’t relate to her dealing with her new dark life along with the angst of teen-hood, but I immediately related to parts of what she was going through. For instance, needing to stay quiet to pay attention to everything around her, because she could no longer rely on visual cues to tell her who was in the room and who had left it or when it was her turn to speak—everything the sighted use working eyes for. Not to mention the shock of suddenly going blind.
I related to Emma’s feeling like her life was starting over, like she was a brand new person. I divide my life into different segments like, before MS /after MS and before blind / after blind, etc. I think the author did well in describing the way life is altered when one is diagnosed with a disability. Emma wondered if she would ever find anyone hot again. I remember thinking that very thing when I went blind. I learned quickly that, yes, attraction is about so much more than physical appearance. So when Emma had this thought, I very much related to her.
But that was where the similarities between Emma and myself stopped. A year after the accident, she’s still using her white cane in her house, she’s comparing her loss of sight to the tragedy of her classmate losing her life, and she’s touching people’s faces. No. No no, we do not touch faces. At least, I’ve never met a blind person who touches faces. I’m sure one or two exist, but please stop writing us touching faces.
My biggest annoyance with Emma’s character is that she was suddenly synesthetic, meaning she tasted words and heard colors. Now, I’ve heard of blind people with this talent. I’ve never heard of those who later became blind having this talent. I certainly don’t. I can’t feel someone inhale from across the room unless I hear it. Yes, I can feel spaces, but some of the details of Emma’s existence might give people the absolutely wrong idea of what it is like to be blind. Every time Emma said someone’s voice was lavender, I wanted to scream. The word synesthetic wasn’t even used.
While that was the most glaring inaccuracy, there were others as well, such as Emma counting the steps to her sidewalk. We generally don’t count steps. Since a person’s gait varies, counting steps is unreliable. And people constantly take Emma’s shoulders, elbow, or hand and steer her. It’s a common sighted misconception that we need to be steered like this, but it’s very discombobulating. It is more stabilizing for a blind person to hold a sighted person’s arm, just above their elbow.
Emma also had to fight not to rock back and forth. While this may very well be a traumatic response, it wasn’t clear; I worry readers will assume her rocking is related to her blindness rather than her trauma, in which case they would come away with an inaccurate belief about blindness.
Some of my other concerns aren’t inaccuracies so much as things that seemed either misguided or improbable. For instance, characters kept telling Emma she was, “lucky she couldn’t see” certain things. Now, I often say I’m grateful I can’t see something, like terrible images on the news, but please don’t say that to me. It might sound hypocritical, but don’t assume a blind person will be glad they can’t see something. This kind of statement was never critiqued in the book.
Much of the improbability in the book relates to her schooling. Emma appears to bring her pet dog to “mainstream” school with her, and nobody cares. A chapter later, we find out the dog is a K9 Buddy, which blind kids can get before they’re old enough to get a guide dog. It’s true that K9 Buddies can’t go all the places guide dogs can. But Emma’s school has decided it’s OK for her dog to accompany her, while the school for the blind she attended previously would not let her have the K9 Buddy. She also had a mobility instructor come to her house every single day early in her blindness. I saw mine once a week. This fictional town is the place to go blind, apparently.
Relatedly, Emma spent weeks in the hospital, and there was discussion of rehab and therapy after her release. Me? I spent two days in the hospital, and when I was released, I was given no information, or any sort of guidance. I figured it out on my own for months, until my grandma’s exterminator told her about the local agency for the blind. I think this book paints a picture of a lot more help for the suddenly disabled than is actually readily known about or available. Maybe Emma lucked out because her father is a doctor, but it did not seem realistic to me.
Also unrealistic was how quickly Emma learned braille and how to use a brailler. Perhaps it’s her youth, but I found braille very hard to learn and I don’t use it now. However, I think the book made a good point, that in spite of all the technology we have today, blind children should still learn braille. On the other hand, screenreaders—a commonly used technology—aren’t mentioned until much, much later in the book and Emma never once used a computer with screenreading technology to access the internet (although the book does mention her using VoiceOver on her phone). We also never find out about the cost of assistive technology, which I think is an oversight. Finally, it’s not clear what kind of device she uses: a braille note taker or a brailler. I think the author might have meant the former, not the latter, which is a clunky typewriter-like machine.
As far as the rest of the book goes, I’m afraid it felt disjointed, fragmented and rambling. Several times I thought the book was ending, only for a new chapter to begin. The death of the student and the subsequent meetings of the teens arguing about whether her death was accidental or suicide simply felt like “blind kid meets after-school special.”
As I said in the beginning, this book had so much potential! Unfortunately, I would not recommend it for anyone who wants an accurate view into the life of a newly blinded person. I did not find it at all accurate, except for some of her feelings as she was learning to adjust to her new, dark life.