From the age of three, I was fascinated with books. I lived in the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, in a wooded area far from the city, and I loved that I could read about girls like me living vastly different lives. With a book, I could travel to real and imaginary lands, hang out with aliens or gnomes, solve mysteries alongside detectives and amateur sleuths. . . . Anything I could imagine, I could experience inside a book. Then, at age 14, I was diagnosed with a juvenile form of macular degeneration, which basically creates a blind spot in your central vision. I struggled with how I and others perceived me; naturally, I turned to books for help.
I started by checking out every book I could find with a character who was blind. This was the early ’80s, though – there really wasn’t a lot out there. Besides the Helen Keller story and the Little House books, I think I only found two with blind characters. Unsatisfied, I moved on to any book with a character who had a disability. The more I found (or didn’t find) the more frustrated I got because not only were a lot of the books I found rather boring, but also it seemed that every book shared the same two characteristics.
First, each seemed to be written for the “able-bodied” and served as a sort of handbook on how a person with a disability does things differently – how she uses her hands to read instead of her eyes; how she reads lips instead of using her ears, etc. The second frustrating attribute was how the person with the disability was portrayed. She was always a nice, sweet person who let the misunderstandings and insults roll off her back; she was the super good person that the other characters wanted to be like, the one that had everything under control and was wise beyond her years. To my dismay, she was a person I could not identify with at that point in my life, and it left me feeling abnormal and empty.
Where were the books written for the girl who was struggling with her disability? Where were the books about the angry, depressed girl who didn’t know how to let stuff roll off her back? Where were the books about the not-so-sweet, not-so-nice girl who lashed out at everyone who meant well? As anyone with an acquired disability will tell you, you go through a process similar to the grieving process when you lose a physical ability. You experience denial and anger and depression long before you ever reach self-awareness and are able to accept yourself. You push away the right people while clinging to the wrong ones. You often give up on the right things while trying the wrong things. In a nutshell, having a disability can mess you up emotionally – so where were all the books about that?
Unfortunately, I never found any, and subsequently never found “me” in any books. That’s why, decades later, when I decided to “write what I know” and have a visually impaired protagonist, I revisited that part of my life to figure out exactly what I wanted – and didn’t want – that book to include. I wanted first and foremost to write a thriller that would be engaging and keep the reader turning the pages, because why write a book that isn’t engaging? But beyond that, I knew I did not want it to be an “issue” book that would mimic those “handbook” style books I found in the ’80s.
As I began writing, I realized I wanted this story to be for the angry, lost teen I was back then. I wanted to write about a real girl with real emotions struggling in a world that too often is unforgiving to those who don’t fit the right mold. I wanted to write a story for that girl who already knew what it was like to have an impairment, who already knew how cruel the world can be, who already knew she didn’t always react the way people expected. Basically, I wanted to write the book that said “hey, it’s okay, you’re okay – now stop wallowing in self-pity and take a look around you.”
What I came up with was Blind Spot, a YA about sixteen-year-old Roswell Hart. Roswell is so desperate to prove she is “normal” despite her visual impairment that she is oblivious to everything going on around her. She trusts the wrong people, pushes away the right ones, misses the clues and the signs – and suddenly “wakes up” in the middle of a nightmare in which she must prove her innocence in a classmate’s death. Blind Spot is the book I would’ve wanted to find when I was 14 – a page-turner that kept me up all night while giving me a glimpse of myself in the process. I hope it does the same for others.