Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

Hello friends! I woke up at 6:15 this morning for NO REASON and with boundless energy. I have no idea where it came from, but I'll take it. Here's a review of Blind Spot, a YA mystery/suspense novel by Laura Ellen. 

I found Blind Spot from an interview with the author on Disability In Kidlit. Their site does great stuff and you should totally check them out. 

Protagonist

Blind Spot is the story of Roz, a teenager with macular degeneration who is put in a Special Education class for the first time -- and then has to solve the murder of one of her classmates. She has a blind spot in the center of her vision, where everything is blurry. Despite living with this for most of her life, it was never diagnosed and she's been in mainstream class her whole life. Roz is initially angry and offended to be put in Special Ed; she feels like she's being singled out and doesn't like the "disabled" label. However, after a suicide of a disabled teen in the past year, the class is now mandatory for all disabled students. 


Text: Blind Spot, Laura Ellen. Tagline: "What you can't see might be murder." Review quote at the top reads: "An utterly believable mystery, gritty with high school drama and shot through with suspense...A captivating read, right to the last page." -- Carol Plum-Ucci, author of 'The Body of Christopher Creed.' Image: A close-up of a girl's eye looking out past the reader, with some jagged lines crossing the top and bottom of the cover. Everything is tinted blue, image and text included.

Mystery

On her first day in the class, everyone is paired up with a partner who's supposed to act as a homework-buddy-slash-support-system. Roz gets paired with Tricia, a girl who deals with drug addiction, PTSD, and, in her somewhat sarcastic words, "emotional disturbance." When Tricia is found dead, Roz may have been the last person to see her alive -- during their fight. And she doesn't remember the rest of the night. 

I'm not tagging Tricia's death as a spoiler, because it's on the summary and the first page of the book. However, throughout the story we get to know Tricia, and her death really has an emotional impact. Roz and her friends try to find the killer. As events unfold, however, Roz starts to worry that she might be the killer.

Romance

The teens in this novel felt authentic to me. Roz is extremely excited to catch the attention of an older, popular boy -- her first real boyfriend -- who, surprise surprise, turns out to be an unrepentant pile of shit. He emotionally manipulates her, showering her with affection only to drop all communication for days, only to mack on her at the dance. Roz, thankfully, finally realizes what a dick he is, but only after about a ton of drama. Even then, her physical attraction to him doesn't totally disappear -- she still finds herself thinking how cute he is, and is frustrated by that. I thought that was pretty realistic. 

The love interest of the book is Roz's study buddy -- but don't worry, there's a ton of drama there, too. They're constantly sniping at each other, having misunderstandings, sweet moments which are interrupted, and arguing before finally getting on the same page. 

The Character I Hated

I wanted to STRANGLE Roz's Special Ed teacher. He is an example of 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.' While he does want Roz to be able to accept her disability and work with it rather than fight it, he starts going about that in ways that first cross the line and then turn straight-up abusive. Furthermore, he's a shitty teacher in other ways. For his class's "career development," he organizes a series of unpaid jobs. Hiring disabled people for less than minimum wage or for no money at all is practiced widely in the U.S. Predictably, the students are hurt and angry. They rebel, which is a fantastically satisfying part of the book. 

Some Things I Didn't Like

One thing I didn't like was that it was unclear whether the teacher still had his job by the end of the book. He should've been fired. He's awful. 

Blind Spot also spends a lot of time on the issue of consent and relationship abuse. These, I felt, were important topics to address in a book for teens where drugs and roofies are involved. One thing I didn't like is when we find out Heather slept with the guy Roz likes while she was drunk. The way Heather described it, "it just sort of happened" and she wasn't fully in control -- while, I'm pretty sure, the guy was sober. If you are sober and have sex with someone who isn't, that's rape. While the book did address other parts of this subplot, and did a decent job of handling consent elsewhere, it never addressed the problem of consent there. It's never framed as rape.

Finally, some of the kids from the Special Ed class are excluded from the final plot to try and catch the killer. The abled kids, Roz, her physically disabled friend, and others who are not intellectually disabled decide that it would all be too much for the intellectually disabled kids in the class to understand, and that they don't want to get their hopes up only to have them crushed. This is infantilizing and goes against the message from other parts of the book. It's fairly common for non-intellectually-disabled disabled folks to still display forms of ableism towards intellectually disabled people. While this happens in real life, I didn't like it much and wished the book would have done more to challenge those assumptions.

Some Things I Liked

Roz begins this book with a lot of internalized ableism. She stereotypes her classmates, is furious to be labelled disabled, and tries to hide her disability whenever possible. By the end of the book, she's started to overcome a lot of that internalized ableism. Internalized ableism is something many disabled people deal with, and I thought Blind Spot handled it pretty sensitively. 

Roz also has to deal with abled expectations of behavior. For instance, when she is being questioned by police, she has to put in an effort to look them straight in the eye -- because otherwise, she looks shifty and guilty. But, her macular degeneration means that she can't look someone right in the eye, because that way, she can't see them. Roz is constantly being mistaken for shy, aloof, or shifty because of how she uses her peripheral vision to see people's faces. The author has macular degeneration herself, so this is an ownvoices work that captures a lot of the experiences an abled writer would probably miss. (You can read an interview with the author here.)

I liked that the book had a fair range of disabilities represented in the class, and that each of the students had a personality and goals beyond a stereotype. I particularly liked Tricia as a character, even though her fate saddened me. I won't give away too much, but Tricia is an example of how the system failed her and her family. I think she'd have been much better off if authority figures (including the teacher) didn't intervene to try to """"save"""" her by "doing the right thing." 

The ending may frustrate some with its odd lack of closure. I thought it was a satisfying way to close things off. 

The suspense in this was also through the roof. I was simultaneously cringing and on the edge of my seat flipping the pages, desperate to see what would happen next!

Overall, I would give this 4/5 stars. It's a great read. I got very into the characters and totally absorbed in the story. I recommend it to those who like mystery and suspense.

[Trigger warnings for this book include: death, ableism, drug and alcohol use/abuse, emotional abuse, descriptions of past sexual assault, discussion of suicide, physical assault, kidnapping, apartment fire.]

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