Not If I See You First is Eric Lindstrom's debut novel, about a young blind teen who discovers that there are more ways to be blind than just not being able to see. As she discovers this she learns about forgiveness, reconciliation and second chances.
High school junior, Parker Grant lives in the town of Coastview with her Aunt Celia and her Uncle and her cousins, Sheila who attends the same high school, and Petey who is only eight years old. Parker lost her sight when she was seven years old as a result of a car accident that killed her mother and tore her optic nerves. Then three months ago Parker found her father dead on his bedroom floor. Because a bottle of Xanax was found in his room, the insurance company denied Parker his life insurance benefit and she lost the house to her Aunt Celia. To help Parker adjust to the loss of her father, her aunt and uncle moved in but the adjustment has been difficult for all.
Parker attends John Quincy Adams High School. There used to be another high school, Jefferson, but it closesd, o Adams is now jammed with new students including Parker's long ago ex-boyfriend Scott Kilpatrick. Parker and Scott had been best friends since grade four. In grade eight they became boyfriend-girlfriend. One day during lunch they went to an empty classroom and while they were kissing, unknown to Parker, they were being watched by Scott's friends. Seven boys in all. Parker fled the room and had her dad pick her up from school. Scott tried to explain to her what happened and kept calling her. He tried to tell Parker he was sorry but she refused to talk to him. If he was in the same class as her she ignored him and eventually they both graduated and went to different high schools. Now Scott is attending Adams.
At the start of the new school year, Parker has been assigned a new buddy, Molly who will help her get around the school. Unlike many visually impaired people, Parker does not wear sun glasses but instead wears a scarf wrapped around her head, covering her eyes. Since going blind Parker has a list of eleven rules, the most important being "Rule #1: Don't deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public." and "Rule #INFINITY: There are NO second chances. Violate my trust and I'll never trust you again. Betrayal is unforgivable."
After dinner that night, Parker's best friend Sarah calls her and reveals to her that Scott Kilpatrick, "Parker Enemy Number One" was in her Trig class that day and that he may try to apologize to her again. However, Parker simply steels herself and tells Sarah she will just ignore him.
On a shopping trip to the mall to get a new pair of running shoes, Parker meets a nice sales clerk named Jason Freeborn. Parker is attracted to Jason who is a senior at Adams because he treats her like a normal person. Several days later Parker meets Coach Underhill who explains how she can run using a guide. After doing a trial run on the grass the coach tells Parker that she's fast and that means she will have a hard time finding a guide who can keep up with her.
As the days go by Parker learns that Scott seems to still care about her. When she takes a nasty fall on the field after working with Coach Underhill she learns from Molly that Scott was one of the first over to see that she if she was hurt. When out on a date with Jason, he tells her that Scott was the one who intervened when two guys were harassing her at school and stole her phone. This leads Parker to text Scott and ask him why he did what he did to her in grade eight and what he was trying to tell her back then. He tells her the truth of what happened in Ms. Kincaid's classroom four years ago. Scott also tells her that he hopes she never forgives him and that he stopped making excuses for what he did. He tells her that he did the unforgivable.
Not If I See You First chronicles the journey sixteen year old Parker Grant undergoes during her junior year as she is forced to confront the reappearance in her life of the boy who was her best friend and her first love. She lost that friend because she rushed to judge what he'd done without fully listening to his side of the story. She made the decision to never to forgive him and this decision has a profound effect on her life because Parker loses her ability to trust people. But while Parker continues to ignore him after he reappears in her life she discovers that he still cares for her. And this makes her question what happened and her decision not to forgive him. Suspecting she might be missing the truth of what really happened that day she reaches out to him and discovers something about herself in the process.
Parker is still angry at her ex-boyfriend Scott Kilpatrick for what happened when they were thirteen years old. When she learns he is now attending Adams, Parker tells best friend Sarah what what he did was unforgivable. "I'll say fuck you Scott Kilpatrick and your sad little story about being a stupid kid. When people do dumbass things everyone has to live with the consequences..."
But a series of events with her new boyfriend Jason, with Scott, with her cousin Sheila and with best friend Sarah make Parker realize that she has become so focused on herself that she has become blind to what is happening in the lives of those around her. Parker learns from Molly and Jason that Scott has been watching over her and has unknowingly come to help her several times. Unsettled over Scott's concern for her, Parker decides she needs to know his side of the story and she texts him. She discovers that he did not set her up when his friends caught them kissing and that he cared only about her that day, running after her to try to explain. Then Sarah breaks up with her boyfriend Rick but she won't tell Parker much about what happened, leading Parker to realize that they almost never talk about Sarah's life. When Sheila comes to pick up Parker at school she has music playing loudly in the car. This supremely annoys Parker until she discovers that Sheila is doing this to cover up her crying. When she tries to apologize Sheila angrily tells her that the world does not revolve around her and her problems. Parker admits to knowing this but Sheila accuses her of not really understanding. "I hear the words but everything else tells me you don't know. Yeah, you got big problems...You really are blind! You can't see you're not the center of the universe! That other people have lives and things happen to them all the time and you know nothing about it!...You just don't care. Say whatever you want but in your head it is all about you. Except it isn't, Parker. It really, really isn't."
Parker has always acted as though she is sure of everything around her because she feels she can't trust anyone but herself. She recognizes why she does this: she pretends to be sure of everything because the alternative is much scarier. "I know why I'm so sure of everything all the time; it's because I can't stomach the alternative, that I can't be sure of anything ever....the hard truth is clear. I was wrong about pretty much everything that happened in this car ride. And if I let myself think about it, I might be wrong about a lot of other things too.
She was so sure of what happened years ago in that classroom that she never considered maybe she didn't know what really happened. Now suspecting this might be the case with Sarah, Parker decides to talk to her best friend. Sarah tells Parker that Scott still loves her despite the way Parker has treated him.She knows this because of how he looks at her. Sarah realizes that Rick has never looked at her the way Scott still looks at Parker and this leads her to want more out of a relationship with a boy. She tells Parker this because she knows Parker can't see Scott's reactions. When Rick surprises Sarah by being very upset over their break-up Sarah wonders how badly Scott must have felt when Parker dumped him. This is something Parker never thought about because she was so wrapped up in her own feelings. Parker comes to the realization that the person she's always been is not someone who's very good.
When she confronts Scott to admit her mistake she tells him that it seems like "Everyone is a secret. There's no way to know what's in anyone's head." but Scott tells her "People are full of things you don't know but that doesn't mean they're secrets; you just don't know everything yet." When she asks if they can be friends again Scott declines because he believes he has permanently broken Parker's trust, an important characteristic of a true friendship.
Parker tries to convince Scott that she wants to be friends again and that she is able to trust him. However Scott is having none of it because she's a person who doesn't trust and he can't imagine her as someone who does. The Parker Scott now knows is the one who tells a fellow student during one of her "relationship advice sessions" with Sarah that getting back with an old boyfriend won't work,
" The point is...if he wasn't happy before, why would he be happy now? Either he's changed or he's hoping you have. Have you changed?"
"I don't think so."
"He hasn't either, sorry to tell you. People don't change. They just learn from experience and become better actors."
Despite Parker's efforts to convince Scott that she feels differently about him now that she knows the truth of what happened, Scott is unwilling to be more than just friends. Scott also has trust issues. Like Parker who thought Scott was someone who would betray her, Scott believes Parke is someone who would just throw a "friendship away in an instant, and...just bail without even a word." Parker understands that Scott can't trust her because she didn't trust him but she tells Scott that "...trust needs proof." Parker forces Scott to make a choice: either he is her boyfriend and he continues doing the things he's been doing to look out for her, or he is not and he has to stop watching out for her.
Lindstrom has crafted and entire set of realistic, believable teen characters in his novel. Parker Grant is completely blind (something Lindstrom does mention as usual as most people with visual impairment can see some light or shadows) but she's no stereotype. That much is evident from the very beginning of the novel when she is portrayed as a person known for speaking her mind and not caring how others feel. Parker describes herself at the beginning of the novel as "I'm the reigning queen of not giving a shit..." She's not a nice person. When she is nasty to the boy in Trig class she states, "The silence that follows is the perfect example of the thing I love most about being blind: not seeing how people react to what I say." She has an attitude, she's self-centered and as Trish describes her later in the book, she's a "Blind Bitch". But Parker's struggles to come to terms with several tragedies in her life make her an endearing character too.
Not If I See You First is a brilliant debut novel for Lindstrom and marks him as an author to watch for in the future.
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
New York: Little, Brown and Company 2015