Blind is the story of Emma Sasha Silver, who loses her sight in a firework accident. As I read this book I kept thinking, Crikey, what a gloomy teen, and reading about her was equally gloomy. Of course it’s extremely difficult to unexpectedly lose your sight, but it appears to be Emma’s sole characteristic; it’s sadly hard to see beyond her reflections on what she can’t do now that she’s lost her sight to actually find out how she’s adapting and adjusting.
Now, your mileage may vary. I’m sure that somewhere, there is a teenager dealing with blindness exactly this way, but most of the blind people I’ve known, teenage or otherwise, were less melodramatic about their sight loss. My own sight loss started in my late twenties and I found the new challenges I faced to be exasperating at times, but on the whole they were stimulating. As a newly blind person you learn so many new ways of doing the things you want to do, and I always felt a terrific sense of achievement when I was shown how to accomplish things I had feared might be impossible without sight. I saw none of that in this book. Everyone reacts differently, but it’s rare to see experiences like my own in popular media, while Emma’s reaction seems like the default.
I would be disappointed if the only insight sighted people got about what it feels like to lose your sight was the one from this story. For example, if you’re not blind, it may be natural to think that blind people object to words like “see” and “look.” When Emma’s best friend Logan urges her to get out and see people again, Emma replies that she can’t because she can’t see … Cue the line, “She never made that mistake again.” The strange thing is that I’ve never known any blind person avoiding the use of words like “see” or “look.” Again, I’d hate for sighted people to read this book and think that blind folk all avoid words with visual associations; in fact, the only blind friends I talk to moan about sighted people avoiding the use of such visual words because they think we’ll be offended!
At the end of the second chapter, Emma’s therapist encourages her to throw eggs at a wall, inside or outside, to help defuse feelings of frustration and anger. Is this some particular coping strategy I didn’t learn in vision rehab? When Isaac has cancer-related sight loss in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, he gets taken out to hurl eggs at his former girlfriend’s car. I wonder if I just missed a memo featuring blindness coping strategies for authors to use, but maybe it’s just coincidence that these two characters from different books deal with their vision via the medium of yolk.
Emma also seems rather keen on feeling people’s faces to get an idea of what they look like. Do other blind people do this regularly? I’ve never felt up anybody else’s face and nobody has asked to feel mine simply to get an idea about how I look! It seems to happen all the time in books and films, but in my experience, very few blind people actually do this in real life.
Aside from these niggles about how blindness is presented, a bigger problem is the slow pace of the book. I’d say the pace of the plot, but there is no actual plot to speak of. One story thread concerns the death of one of Emma’s friends, Claire, who committed suicide. All this adds to the story is Emma and her classmates meet up in a scary deserted house to talk about how it makes them feel, and how to make sure nothing like that happens to them. I would go as far as saying that there is little difference in pace between Claire’s death and that of Bigs the family pet rabbit, who meets his demise halfway through the book.
While I love that DeWoskin featured a newly blind protagonist in her book, allowing teenagers to both relate to and learn from Emma’s experiences, I don’t think Blind was a success. There are some nice turns of phrase, including descriptive thoughts reflecting Emma’s sighted memories, and DeWoskin clearly has good intentions; Blind had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, between characters I just couldn’t connect to and the lacking plot, it didn’t work for me at all.