Diverse Elements: Written by Paralympian, featuring a blind protagonist and one supporting character who is a PoC.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Will is blind and starting life at home and a new school in Toano, Kansas. He previously (from the time he was 5) had attended an away-from-home school for the visually impaired but wanted to strike out more on his own as he has aspirations to become an award-winning journalist.
His first day at school he is embarrassed by the bumbling principal, welcomed by his awesome English teacher, and humiliates himself by accidentally groping an unknown girl, “staring” at a classmate with self-image issues, and sitting on top of someone in the cafeteria.
Luckily, the person he sits on ends up becoming a good friend named Nick who is head of the scholastic quiz team. All of Nick’s teammates (including a person of color) end up being friends with Will, too. And the girl he stared at and reduced to tears? Also part of the quiz team, but she has a different lunch period. Her name is Cecily.
Cecily and Will are assigned as partners in journalism class (also taught by the cool English teacher). They grow closer. Will begins to have feelings for her. She keeps dropping hints that she’s been bullied all her life and has some pretty bad self-image issues.
Meanwhile, Will’s mom tells him about this new procedure that can maybe help kids like him, kids who are totally blind from birth. She almost forces him to go see a doctor about it. His dad, on the other hand, wants him to consider NOT having the surgery because of how many people have become depressed in these situations.
Will gets the surgery and discovers that CECILY IS NOT PRETTY in the traditional sense and becomes very, very upset with her FOR BEING DISHONEST. Then she disappears, and Will must decide if his pride or his heart must take first place.
What I Liked: I liked that Cecily knew a lot about art. It was cool.
What I Disliked: .Uuuughhh, I disliked reading this book. It was a fast read. I didn’t have to exactly force myself through it. But it was so….BLAH. For example, the characters were STATIC. And immature. But not immature in a redeeming way. Just straight out immature. The one character, Nick, seemed to be one of those guys who is like, “It’s ok to make blind jokes and black jokes cause I’m friends with a blind guy and a black guy.” The black character,Whitford, had all of 4 lines. And by the end of the book, I didn’t feel connected to a single character. Not.a.single.one. Not the protagonist. Not his love interest. No one.
And I’m not claiming to be a master of character development. But so many trite places. It was like reading a watered-down version of that Val Kilmer movie At First Sight. And “your mom” jokes. And parents who are sick of their kid being blind but also feel threatened when he has a chance to be sighted. And all of these things would be non-issues if the author DEVELOPED them. But instead, after nearly 300 pages, all I am is irritated.
It is VERY obvious to me that the author is a sighted person. Will’s therapy and visual-cortex-building consists of learning all the colors in a day and remembering what Cecily told him about perspective. It doesn’t ring true. He claims in the 5-page appendix to have done copious amounts of research, and he may have done. But either he disregarded it or is a poor writer. And, of course, as a sighted person, I understand that he was probably coming from a good place in his heart in writing this narrative and that maybe I shouldn’t judge his writing because I’m not blind so how would I know.
Either way, it makes me wonder, why did he choose to write this? And how would he feel, as a paralympian (he lost his leg to Ewing’s sarcoma as a child), if someone with both their legs tried to write a story about being a paraplegic and instead of synthesizing the research into something seamless and moving, made the researched bits into the literary equivalent of “sound bites” like, “I was born completely blind, so one thing I truly can’t do is imagine an overhead map and then make up different routes or shortcuts. I can walk from A to B, yes, but only if I memorize a list of actions.” Let me be clear–not saying this isn’t true or isn’t important to know. But nearly everything that the author included to show Will’s blindness reads like a textbook. And that’s really frustrating.
Last thing, I promise. Cecily’s character and Will’s reactions to her. Really, man? Really? Girl has been bullied all her life because of her appearance, you’ve grown close to her, she is constantly telling you in one way or another that she has self-image problems, and you chose to treat her like she is at fault? Not saying this wouldn’t happen. But out of all the ways to address this issue, oh man, it falls really short. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Will Porter in real life, and I would encourage Cecily to not find solace in that relationship.
What I Loved: …. *sigh* ummm… I loved that they went to a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit because I love Van Gogh.
“All right, so a realist is an artist who paints an image that looks similar to what a good photographer could capture on film. That’s like, if you could imitate the sound of my speech with near-perfect accuracy using your own voice. But an impressionist paints not what the scene actually is, but what it feels like . . . not distorted…interpreted, represented in a different way. Like a metaphor. Like an impressionistic version of my voice might not sound like me at all, at least not in a literal sense. It might be a piece of music that when you hear it makes you think of my voice. You hear it and say, ‘Yes, that captures the essence of what Cecily sounds like.'”
Why It’s Important:
(Note: I obviously do not like this book, so take this with many grains of salt)
Firstly, I think it’s important because it really highlights why sighted people should not presume to know enough about non-sighted people as to write a novel from that perspective. Or abled people writing about non-abled people. Or white people writing about PoC.
But it might be a good first look for someone who might never otherwise be attracted to reading about life from this perspective, to show that yes, blind people can make bad choices too; and yes, blind people can fall in love too; and yes, learning to see is a difficult, strenuous process.
Recommended For: younger readers who would enjoy a quick read.