Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Fourteen year old Natalie O'Reilly was born without irises - a condition known as sporadic aniridia. It is this condition that is the cause of her juvenile glaucoma and the resultant gradual loss of her eyesight. Despite daily eye drops and numerous operations to control the pressure in her eyes, the inevitable seems to be happening. Natalie is going blind. Hoping that she might be spared total vision loss, at first Natalie resists attempts to prepare for such a situation and to develop the skills she might one day need. She is in denial.
Blindsided details the gradual slip into blindness by a young teenager and her coming to terms with her vision loss and her life situation.

Natalie's vision first began to deteriorate at the age of eight when her peripheral vision begins to vanish, "It's like the world got shrinked."
Soon reading becomes a struggle and as her vision becomes more limited, everyday life becomes more difficult. She has trouble finding her classrooms and taking notes. Eventually Natalie's vision deteriorates to the point where she is sent to the Baltimore Center for the Blind to learn the skills she needs; reading braille, using a cane and learning to function as a vision impaired person in a sighted world.

When she first arrives at the Center, Natalie is resistant. When she is told they will do a sighted guide around the Center on her first day there, she believes this isn't necessary.
"Sighted guide meant taking another person's elbow and letting them lead. But she didn't need it. Didn't want it would be more to the point. People here would get the wrong idea. Should she speak up?"
Natalie is frightened and in denial of what her future might be. Her mother tells her it's now time to learn the skills she will need. But Natalie isn't prepared for this.
"But it couldn't be time, Natalie thought to herself. New skills would only be necessary if Natalie went blind and that just couldn't happen. Natalie did not want to lose her sight. No way! A world of darkness? A world alone?"

Natalie tries making deals with God in the hopes that she will not loose all her vision. But when it appears that God isn't listening she experiences anger and doubt.

Priscilla Cummings does an excellent job of detailing the emotional and psychological obstacles a young teen must face in a devastating and life-altering situation such as this. Natalie not only has to cope with her own feelings but also with those of her parents and friends. She struggles to hang onto her friends who continue to attend classes at what was once her  high school. In the end though, Natalie succeeds in coming to terms with her visual impairment and comes through an especially difficult trial to realize that life is worth living, despite being blind.

One thing I felt Cummings accomplished in an exceptional manner was her portrayal of a visually impaired person learning to navigate a busy intersection. Although I'm always cautious when I see a visually impaired person at an intersection I felt a new sense of respect for how difficult it might actually be to know when to cross. Natalie was a believable, well drawn character who readers will sympathize with. If anything she will help young readers understand better the world of the visually impaired (many are not completely blind for example).
My one complaint was the two episodes of sexual content which were irrelevant to the storyline and seemed downright silly. Sometimes I get the impression that authors of YA books feel that there must be some sexual content in a book in order to keep the reader interested. The inclusion of these episodes really served no purpose to the plot or character development.

Book Details:
Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings
Dutton Publishers   2010
240 pp.

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