BOOK REVIEW: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
I know it was an accident. Oxycodone for your back, then some more when it didn’t work along with some ibuprofen for swelling, plus some Xanax, and then a couple beers that made you forget you already took them and you took more, and extra Xanax because you were having a bad week, all adding up to stop your breathing sometime between one and three in the morning. I know you wouldn’t have left me here alone on purpose, no matter what the cops or the insurance people or my closest relatives say. I know it.
Three months ago, Parker Grant’s father died and she’s having a bit of a rough time without him, but she’s putting on a brave face. And there’s a lot to keep her distracted.
Aunt Celia, Uncle Sam, and cousins Sheila and Petey have moved into Parker’s house to save her from having to move and change school on top of everything else.
I’d caused a minor uproar when they first moved in because after I cut my food I don’t switch my fork to my right hand for each bite. This is a concept that (1) had never occurred to me, (2) is common etiquette supposedly, at least among people who still obsess about things like this, and (3) is something that I find utterly bizarre.
The other school in town has been shut down, so there’s an influx of new kids to educate in the rules according to Parker, and her ex-best friend turned lifelong enemy is among them.
I usually wear a frayed army jacket, arms torn off, covered with buttons that friends bought or made over the years. Slogans like Yes, I’m blind, get over it! and Blind, not deaf, not stupid! and my personal favorite, Parker Grant doesn’t need eyes to see through you! Aunt Celia talked me out of it this morning, saying it would overwhelm all the people from Jefferson who don’t know me. She’s wrong, it turns out. They need to be overwhelmed.
And she’s met a new boy.
“You’re admitting to being at a loss for words? Careful, I don’t think I can handle my world turning upside down twice in one conversation.”
I take another breath. “All I can say is, he knew how to talk to a blind girl.”
“Damn, girl, that’s all you needed to say.”
There is so much in this book to love.
The sassy main character – Parker is a straight up, no nonsense kind of girl. She’s blind, but she’s not bitter about it, though she does hate being patronised. Yes, she can help cook dinner. Yes, she can walk to the shoe store by herself. Yes, she can go running by herself in the mornings without the use of her cane. So would everyone (Aunt Celia) stop treating her like a child already?
Aunt Celia’s car pulls up and stops.
“I suppose you can tell if that’s your aunt’s car, just by the sound?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“My dog can do that, too.”
I turn my head to face her, something I don’t often bother doing.
“I’m starting to like you, Molly Ray. But believe me, it’s a mixed blessing.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I believe it.”
The deep, realistic characters – They’re not perfect. In fact, they each have flaws. Sometimes it’s being too hot-headed, sometimes it’s being too self-conscious, selfish, judgemental, or oblivious to the struggles of their friends. They each have their own struggles, but the main thing is that they grow as people throughout the book.
“There’s no point in saying oh yesterday I heard the ice-cream truck drive by and it reminded me how my dad would always say that it only plays that music to say they’re out of ice cream, but if I said nuh-uh and please enough times he’d say okay and buy me a Neapolitan ice-cream sandwich, so I sat on the couch for a few minutes and my eyes got a little wet, but it wasn’t a huge thing, just one of hundreds of little things happening all the time.”
The friendships – These kids. Seriously… these kids. The friendships in this book were so much more powerful than any romance. This isn’t a story about needing to have a guy to be complete, this is a story about coming of age and working out who you are after so much has changed. A lot of these kids have been friends since primary school, but with the influx of newbies to the school, more people find their way into the circle, and it’s fantastic to see how the author handles the various dynamics.
There are the two best friends who hold a sort of counselling/advice session in the mornings on the quad; the girl they used to be best buds with in primary school who has drifted away to a new group, but who they’re still friends with; the new girl who’s been assigned as Parker’s “buddy” to help with course work, and is one of the gang in no time; the cousin who hates Parker and wants nothing to do with her, but is forced to spend time with her occasionally, what with living in the same house and attending the same school. And each one of them feels so very real.
Sheila doesn’t bolt as soon as Aunt Celia’s car stops in the parking lot; she walks with me to my locker. We don’t talk though. I’ve been up for at least an hour longer and ran my sprints, and she’s not really a morning person. She’s also not really a Parker person, so there’s that. One step at a time.
These aren’t the shallow relationships you find in so many YA titles these days. You can feel the connections between the characters, and understand why they’re friends. These kids don’t hate on each other for the sake of it; they like each other with varying degrees, and develop the sort of friendships that don’t need to be nurtured daily for you to know that these people will be there for you when you need them, and vice versa.
This book presents readers with a blind main character, but that’s not what the story’s about. Her blindness is just part of who she is, and she’s going through your normal everyday teenage things, and then some, while trying to convince the people who are new in her life that her blindness doesn’t define her. She understands that they’re just trying to protect her, but being repeatedly told how you can’t do things would get on anyone’s nerves eventually.
Lindstrom writes in a voice that is entertaining, engaging, funny, heartbreaking, and easy to relate to all at once. These characters and their relationships are the sort you won’t want to say goodbye to, but at the same the novel ends at the perfect point to leave the reader satisfied.
Not if I See You First is a debut novel that had this reader shocked at its debut status, and one which has cemented a place for Lindstrom’s future works on my shelf.
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