Monday, October 22, 2012

Blindsided: Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

It should have been a no-brainer. I was returning to the same halls I’d occupied last year. A seasoned vet, not some scared, insecure freshman.

I took a steadying breath. I squinted at the room numbers. I was looking for room 22, Life Skills.

At that last turn, I stopped. Someone in a brown, hooded cloak twirled, twirled, twirled in the middle of the hallway. A garment like that meant immediate social suicide, but in a deserted hallway, it meant something else.

Special Ed.

There had to be some mistake. This was not my room.

Diagnosed in her freshman year with juvenile macular degeneration, Roz feels that she can make it as a regular student, navigating by her peripheral vision and sitting in the front of the classroom. Now she finds herself in a room of special ed students, with a teacher, Mr. Dellian, who seems determined to give her a hard time. It is even worse when she discovers that he is also her AP history teacher, and when she gets lost on the way to that class and hurriedly takes the first empty seat she can spot, one in the back, he insists that, having chosen that seat, she has to sit there all semester. Even worse, in that Life Skills class, Mr. Dellian assigns her to be the partner of the crazy twirling girl, Tricia Farni.

But it is Tricia who gets Roz involved in that Life Skills class in a way she never expected. Tricia claims to be a recovering heroin addict, and when Roz finds her in the restroom shaking and begging her to find her some pot to keep her off the hard stuff, Roz reluctantly agrees to provide the money and go with Jonathan, hockey star and full-time most popular guy, to get Tricia what she needs. Roz can’t believe what she’s doing, but she does believe what she is feeling for Jonathan, who calls her “Beautiful” and asks her out, making her feel, not special in the life skills way, but normal in the way everyone in high school wants to be.

But Mr. Dellian continues to be a daily problem. Roz needs to do well in AP history, but if she sits in front where she can see the board, Dellian counts her absent for not sitting in her “assigned” seat. Roz manages to keep up only with the notes another student, Greg, prints off in enlarged font for her and with his partnering with her on class projects. Appeals to the counselor and principal to change her schedule fail, and Roz decides to try to hang on until the end of the semester. Dating Jonathan takes some of the pain out of Chase High School, and her study time with Greg is surprisingly something she looks forward to each week.

But at a party which goes out of control, Roz finds Tricia and Jonathan together, and something frightening happens, something she can only dimly recall, like a bad dream in which Jonathan, Tricia, and even Mr. Dellian are all mixed up. And then, Tricia disappears, and when her body is found in a frozen river, Roz knows that someone murdered her that night and that her own lost memories are the key to Tricia’s death.

The thing about alien life is there’s no universally accepted proof that it exists. Belief is left to the individual.

Truth is like that, too. It isn’t necessarily universal. Sometimes what we see, what seems real, isn’t real at all.

After Greg left, I struggled with this. What was truth, what was fiction, and could I spot the difference? Once upon a time I thought I could.

What if I was wrong about Jonathan? What if he wasn’t telling me everything?

If truth had to come down to evidence, then I needed to find some.

Laura Ellen’s forthcoming Blind Spot (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt,  2012) uses the legally-blind Roz tos show that physical attraction has the power to blind teenagers to the truth. As the page-turning plot twists and turns toward its suspenseful ending, the truth itself flickers and reassembles itself in Roz’s eyes. A nearly blind sophomore as sleuth makes for an original murder mystery concept, but author Laura Ellen’s characters are well drawn and engaging, even if their choices along the way sometimes make the reader want to give them a shake. Despite a sometimes improbable story line, Ellen delivers an absorbing read with some real insights for the reader. “Roz is an enormously appealing narrator,” says Kirkus Reviews, and along the way to a unexpected conclusion, young adult readers can learn a lot from seeing what unfolds through her eyes.

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