Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings tells the story of Natalie, a typical teenage girl whose world is rocked by the news that she will be completely blind within a matter of months due to glaucoma. Natalie leaves her family farm and local high school to attend a state school for the blind several hours away. Once there, she meets an interesting and diverse group of fellow students who both encourage and annoy her.
The book touches on the very real bonds that form when a bunch of teenagers are together night and day for a whole school year (and that’s coming from someone who met some of her very best friends—and her husband—at a place like this). I also loved that, as in real life, blindness was not the most important thing about any of the characters.
The author spent a year studying the culture and environment at her state’s school for the blind before writing Blindsided and it absolutely showed! She had a real “insider perspective” that came out in the way she casually mentioned common rules of a school for the blind (at least in my experience). For example, Natalie had to pass a test with her Orientation and Mobility (cane) instructor to be allowed to leave the school (a big rite of passage). When she first arrived, she also worked with a mentor who helped her find her classes and settle in at the school.
Beyond the topic of blindness, the book also gives a teen perspective on some very serious (and universal) topics including rape, drug use, and (more positively) friendship.
I absolutely love this book! Like Natalie, I began losing my vision as a high school student (though not from glaucoma) and based on my experience, Natalie’s emotions were spot-on. I seriously could have been reading my own journal as Natalie described her denial (“This won’t really happen to me, will it?”) her self-image (“I mean I’m not like these people, I’m not really blind.”) and her bargaining with God.
That being said, there were a few moments that made me cringe. Unfortunately, this book does contain the awkward “can I feel your face” scene that pop culture seems determined to work into every book, movie or television show with a character who is blind. Seriously, imagine being a teenaged girl with pimples and oily skin. Now ask yourself, would you allow a teen boy (who you may possibly like) to touch said face … blind people don’t really do that, people.
I also thought that although in my experience Natalie felt all the “right” feelings of a teenager losing her vision she sort of sped through the process. In the course of one nine-month school year she received the news she would go blind, changed schools, experienced denial, bargaining, and grief, and made it all the way to acceptance in time to have a whole other traumatic experience (not related to blindness) by the end of the school year. (Yes, a lot happened in this book.)
Natalie acquired her “blindness skills” (braille, cane use, etc.) a little faster than is strictly realistic too, but I think this is forgivable considering the time constraints of a book and that it’s not key to the plot in any way.
Overall, this was the best books depicting blindness that I have ever read. Yes, there are some corny moments, but the relationships and emotions are so authentic that it completely makes up for it. I highly recommend you give it a read!