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Don't deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.
Don't help me unless I ask. Otherwise you're just getting in my way or bothering me.
Don't be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I'm just like you only smarter.
Parker Grant doesn't need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That's why she created the Rules: Don't treat her any differently just because she's blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.
When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there's only one way to react-shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that's right, her eyes don't work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened--both with Scott, and her dad--the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.
This is the sort of book where it would have received a higher rating if this was my sort of book. It’s a quality book. It’s very well written and well paced, the characters are fully fleshed out, believable, and flawed, and there are lessons to be learned and hearts to be broken and mended. It’s just not really a Kim book, and I didn’t really know that going into it. I can like contemporaries when they’re romantic and mostly cutesy (with some gravity thrown in for balance). I am saying this so you know to take my rating with a grain of salt. I think usual fans of contemporaries will really like this one!
In actuality, this is a lot different than I thought it would be. I thought this was going to be a book about broken hearts and second chances and slowly learning to come back together. And it is, sort of. But it’s not really about that. So what is this book about then? It’s about growing up. It’s about realizing when you’re wrong, owning your flaws, and making good on your mistakes.
Parker is a no-nonsense, often unpleasant character. Blunt to the extreme, Parker passes her opinions around with little regard to how they affect others. Her internal narrative is often harsh, and her opinions of her peers and others around her are both uncharitable and unforgiving. Parker is an “unlikeable female character” but not in the bad way. Not in the way that many mean when they use that phrase. You can be a person who isn’t particularly nice, and still not be a bad person. Parker is a good person, albeit a very complicated one who makes mistakes and is quick to judge.
But who among us hasn’t made huge strides in who we were when we were 16 and who we are now? What makes this novel work in a way that it wouldn’t with others is that 1) you feel that the narrator is justified in her outlook and 2) there is significant progress in her character development and personal growth. Parker sure has been through some stuff. She was blinded at age 7 in the drunk driving accident (it was her mother drinking) that ended her mother’s life. At 13, she experienced an incredibly painful betrayal from her boyfriend and longtime best friend which she’s still not recovered from. And to top it off, her father dies three months before the start of the book. Yes, it’s easy to give Parker a pass with her snark and judgment and sniping. If not relatable, it’s understandable.
It’s also the source of the conflict of the story: Parker’s real “enemy” is what she calls her “troll brain.” We all recognize the less rational, perhaps less kind, voice in our heads that tells us one thing when we know reality is probably entirely another thing. Parker’s walls have been up for so long that she can’t see over them. When she recognizes that these walls exist, that they’re a problem, and that they must be taken down we get into the true heart of the story. This is a very internally driven story. You’re entirely in Parker’s head, and also being a person, you understand how hard it is to begin to see outside of how you have always viewed things. It’s tremendously difficult. This is where Parker’s friends get a chance to shine.
This book features so many strong female relationships. I have to say, Lindstrom writes from the perspective of a teenage girl very realistically. Often with male YA authors writing from the female perspective, I go in cringing and and expecting the worst, but this is not the case here. Not only that, but the complexities of teen girl friendship are handled with depth and skill. Miscommunications and misunderstandings are a part of life. But the love that the girls have for each other, despite their anger, is a source of warmth and heart for the novel.
You might think that this is a contemporary romance, like I did. And there is a romantic element of sorts. But the romantic element is the result of Parker figuring herself out and making good on her mistakes. Some might consider this a love triangle since there is a gentleman Parker dates in the novel, and another gentleman for whom she still has feelings from years ago. But this isn’t really a story about romance, it’s about figuring out what you want, and about figuring out what is right (as a person and also from what you want in life).
I am not blind so I cannot speak to how well and authentically Eric Lindstrom captured what it is like to be blind. But I appreciate a YA novel that puts forth this perspective and I am glad to see the representation.
I can see why Not If I See You First would be popular, and it should be. The narrative voice is refreshing in its bluntness and “take no prisoners” attitude. The friendships are messy and real and wonderful. The conundrums are reflective of real life problems. And the ending is pitch perfect. Answers and solutions don’t come easy in life when you make a royal mess of things, and they shouldn’t in fiction either. Trust and forgiveness must be earned, and this story depicts both masterfully.