Not If I See You First

Not If I See You First

It’s been a while since I last took a look at any contemporary fiction so it’s probably about time to return to the real world for a while. Not If I See You First was written by Eric Lindstrom and first published in 2016. It’s a slice of life story told from the perspective of a blind teenage girl. Please note that this review is based on an advance copy that I received from Netgalley and so may not completely reflect the published work.

Parker Grant lost both her mother and vision in a terrible car accident when she was just seven years old. Since then, she’s had a lot of time to get used to her disability with the support of a close-knit group of friends and her loving father. However, when her Dad suddenly passes away, her life is thrown into disarray. Her Aunt, Uncle and cousins all move in with her and, while well meaning, they just don’t respect the Rules.

The Rules are the guidelines that Parker lives by and she expects others to follow them too. Most of them are common sense – not taking advantage of her blindness, always letting her know you’re there before touching her – but to break them is to evoke Rule Infinity which means losing Parker’s trust forever. That’s what happened to Scott Kilpatrick, her first boyfriend. In the two years that followed, Parker has struggled to get over him. However, things become complicated when Scott starts going to her high school.

Avoiding Scott quickly becomes impossible and Parker is forced to remember the unforgivable thing that he did to her. However, as Parker learns more about the event in question, she starts to see that things aren’t always what they seem. She soon starts to question the way that she treats her friends and family and discovers that her blindness may not be limited to her vision…

As you may be aware, I don’t really read contemporary fiction for pleasure. In fact, I do have a tendency to avoid any novel that doesn’t have fantasy and/or science fiction elements. That said, I did find the premise of this story to be rather irresistible. So much of literature is based around visual descriptions. Novels are judged based on their ability to provide a reader with an escape and what better way to help someone imagine they are someone else than by describing it to them. To render the narrator of the story blind is to rob the reader of their primary way of perceiving the world. This is a fantastic challenge for any writer to sink their teeth into.

The results were a little varied and so I don’t really consider this to be a novel that I’d recommend to everyone. To begin with the story’s most positive feature, let’s first talk about Parker herself. I just loved how easy it was to dislike her. This may be a weird way to complement the novel’s protagonist but I was just really impressed by how atypical she was. People with disabilities don’t often get to be protagonists as they’re usually supporting characters who only get included because an author feels that they need more diversity. They also often fall into one of two categories: paragons of virtue or objects of pity. It was just such a relief that Parker was none of these things.

Parker was a very strong female voice. She never allowed herself to wallow in self-pity and strove to prove that she was as independent as possible. There was a reoccurring theme in the novel that sighted characters would react with shock when they discovered that Parker liked to run in her free time (and even more so when they discovered that she was good at it). While Parker accepts the danger and frequently seems to hurt herself while running, it still doesn’t stop her from persevering because it’s something that she wants to do.

She is also a colossal bitch. Seriously. If I met someone like Parker in real life, I would probably loathe them. She’s always snarky and quick to assume the worst of people. She’s also entirely self-centred, never really considering the feelings of those around her. While this is understandable to a degree (without sight, how would she necessarily be able to tell that her words have hurt someone), Parker still frequently takes things too far and can bare a grudge like no one I’ve ever known.

However, this is rather important for her character development. Over the course of the story, Parker realises that she’s a bitch and takes steps to improve herself. While it’s not a complete transformation (she is still ultimately Parker), it was great to see her gradually mature as a character. She wasn’t just defined by her disability, she was a fully rounded character who showed noticeable development by the end of the story.

The supporting cast of the story was frankly excellent. They were multi-layered and their relationships with Parker were sometimes not entirely as black-and-white as Parker herself perceived them. While there is some mild romance in the novel, it’s mainly a story about being a teenage girl. The primary focus is on the bond between Parker and her female friends – the family that she has chosen for herself. Lindstrom does a fantastic job of creating the melodrama of being a teenager in a very realistic voice. Dialogue is really something that he excels at and it always flowed very nicely.

Yet I was still left feeling a little unsatisfied. This is entirely personal but I did feel that there was a bit too much talking. Although Parker can’t describe what things looked like, I would have been interested to see more commentary on other stimuli such as touch or smell. She very rarely spoke about anything other than what people sounded like (even guessing that Molly was overweight by the way that she breathed). While I can’t talk from experience, I would like to think that there is more in a blind person’s field of perception than just what is said to them.

I also felt that the novel did let itself down in terms of storytelling. While I loved the characters, the book never really felt as though it had a plot. It’s just a snapshot of Parker’s life with no real beginning, middle or end. While stuff does happen, there is no real sense of events escalating. In its final chapters, it just petered out as though the author had run out of things so say. There was no sense of catharsis. The reader doesn’t even ultimately find out if Parker and Scott’s relationship will ever return to the way it was before. After the first two hundred pages, I found that I was gradually losing interest in the story and I ultimately was left with the sense that I won’t really remember much about it in a few month’s time.

Well, I really don’t have much to say about this one. All in all, Not If I See You First was a really nice idea for a story but I felt that it needed a stronger plot to guide it. Parker is a fantastic protagonist though, even if she is a bit dislikable, and I recommend it for fans of contemporary fiction who are looking for something a bit different.

Not If I See You First can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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