Everyone has secrets. Everyone is a secret. Parker Grant is a junior in high school who loves to run, has great friends, and isn't afraid to speak her mind - especially when it comes to how stupid some people can be around a blind person like her. The only topic to avoid is how Parker feels about the boy who broke her heart in eighth grade...who has just transferred to her school. And as long as she can keep giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago, she'll be just fine. Right? Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, debut author Eric Lindstrom's Not If I See You First sheds light on the metaphorical blind spots that are a part of life, whether you're visually impaired or not.
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Whenever I pick up a book – particularly a novel – knowing one of the main characters is blind, I approach it with equal parts dread and optimism. Optimism because without that I wouldn’t bother reading the book at all; dread because so many depictions of us include such inaccurate tropes as “superhero with mystical extrasensory powers” or “severely incapable infantalized adult.” Though Young-adult fiction hasn’t been one of my preferred genres in a very long time, Eric Lindstrom (the author of this book) and a few other authors might change that in short order.
It’s been more than fifteen years since I was the age of Parker Grant, the main character in Eric Lindstrom’s novel published late last year. Then how is it possible that I see so much of myself in her? Part of it is her in-your-face attitude; the other part is her bravado that masks a deep sense of insecurity. This has been me. This is me. Oh, and did I mention she runs, too?
The narrator of the audio edition, Lauren Fortgang, became Parker Grant. Her voices for the supporting cast were distinct and memorable, even if not always pitch-perfect and pleasing (hey, not all people have pleasant voices, either). Parker Grant. The take-no-prisoners, hands-off, say-what-she-thinks main character of this book. She’s book-smart, fiercely independent (she runs alone every morning at 6:00AM), and doesn’t give two hoots about what anyone says or thinks about her. Around her is a small group of friends who love her for who she is, even if she’s emotionally distant to them and can be incredibly self-absorbed. Even though some of the specifics were different between me growing up (and maybe even now) and Parker Grant, it was like Mr. Lindstrom held up a mirror in front of my face, with the reflection screaming at me “THIS IS YOU!”
For the most part Lindstrom shies away from tropes for Parker. It became important to him for Parker to have no vision – a common trope for blind characters – for a variety of reasons, primarily for her to misunderstand or simply not consider visual nuance. Even Parker’s fierce independence is in line with her as a risk-taker because that’s who she would have been, blind or not. She also evidences insecurities about herself in small ways – not wanting to eat “messy” foods like lasagna in front of a date. Instead of the dark glasses that are not uncommon in books and movies with blind characters, Parker chooses to wear blindfolds (bandanas or scarves over her eyes) as both a unique fashion statement that can’t be duplicated and as a way to hide her insecurity. I respectfully disagree with another reviewer that the latter explanation overshadows the former; both are consistent with who Parker is and can both motivate her actions simultaneously. This bravado-meets-insecurity makes her a complex, nuanced character that avoids many of the inaccuracies written into blind characters in mass media.
Lindstrom also avoids the trope of the “poor loaner blind girl.” Parker has old friends Sarah and Faith – and the ghost of Scott’s friendship – with her, and new potential friends Jason and Molly. Surprisingly, Lindstrom depicts female friendships incredibly well, with none of the cattiness and all of the miscommunication, strong bonding, and tough love that filter through even the deepest of female friendships. But his grasp on the male-female relationships were unconvincing; something was missing from Parker’s interplay with Scott and with Jason. Jason just seemed to be… there… to be Mr. Almost-Perfect, while Scott patiently waited in the background for Parker to come to her senses and talk to him. Neither really rang true as a romantic interest for some reason, but Parker’s ultimate realizations about Scott provided some messy, touching, Hollywood-worthy moments with just enough nuance to avoid slipping into really sappy territory. There was no true “resolution”, but life is like that sometimes – messy and incomplete and sometimes you just don’t know.
Parker is not always the most likeable of characters, which is in fact what I loved about her. She’s prickly, feisty and opinionated; she loves her friends and hates to be buttonholed into what is expected of her. I saw enough of myself in some pretty scary ways that I wanted to rip the headphones out of my ears, give her a shake (if she didn’t run away or hit me first), and provide her some pearls of wisdom as someone who has traveled many of the same paths as she has and emotionally responded in many of the same ways. But, since I can’t do that, I can at least encourage you to spend some time with Parker. Tell-it-like-it-is types will love her take-no-crap attitude. If you’re an empath, you’ll want to comfort her when that shell cracks wide open. Runners will marvel at her discipline. If you’re none or all of these things, go along for the ride; it’s well worth your time to support an author who created a blind character that is so nuanced and human. You’ll never forget Parker Grant is blind, and she wouldn’t want you to; but don’t get in her way!