When Emma Sasha Silver loses her eyesight in a nightmare accident, she must relearn everything from walking across the street to recognizing her own sisters to imagining colors. One of seven children, Emma used to be the invisible kid, but now it seems everyone is watching her. And just as she’s about to start high school and try to recover her friendships and former life, one of her classmates is found dead in an apparent suicide. Fifteen and blind, Emma has to untangle what happened and why—in order to see for herself what makes life worth living.
Unflinching in its portrayal of Emma’s darkest days, yet full of hope and humor, Rachel DeWoskin’s brilliant Blind is one of those rare books that utterly absorbs the reader into the life and experience of another.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Bring me the flower that leads us out where blond transparencies rise and life evaporates as essence.
Eugenio Montale, 1948
Going blind is a little bit like growing up.
Maybe because the older you get, the more you have to close your eyes partway. From the time I was tiny, if I thought the words, When I die, I’ll be dead forever, I could actually under- stand, in my bone marrow, what forever meant. It was like falling into something textureless, silent, unscented, absolutely blank. And never stopping the fall. I grasped that terror early, and had just started forgetting it when my accident happened. Now I remember again. So I might not be “sighted” anymore, but maybe I’m not that much blinder than anyone else, just a different kind of blind.
If you’re me, then you see that we’re all only a half- second disaster, mistake, or choice away from being changed forever. Or finished. If you’re not me—like my sisters and brother and parents—then maybe you don’t see that. At least not in the same way. Maybe you don’t think about for- ever in the dark. Or what it means to feel colors, to relearn
Sarah, Leah, Naomi, Jenna, Benj, and Baby Lily by the shapes of their voices and the textures of their breathing. I know my sisters and brother by the baby powder, cheerio, and blue toddler toothpaste feeling of the little ones; the pickle, bubble bath, tousled pillow hair of my middle sisters; and the lemon and licorice of the two oldest. Maybe you don’t think about what it means to see or not see; you squeeze those thoughts shut, be- cause who can stand to stare straight at what’s happening? No one. We have to learn to look away so we can say—the way my parents still try to tell the seven of us—you’ll be okay; everything will be fine. In other words, we lie. I don’t do that anymore.
I don’t say much at all, because I have to keep track of what’s going on around me. And I was quiet anyway, even when I was still sighted. I learned that word from my doctors; I’d never heard of sighted until I wasn’t it anymore, never considered blind until it locked onto me like a parasite. I hadn’t noticed what an odd and colorless word it is, how it can suck the meaning out of whatever it attaches to: Blind love? Blind rage? Blind faith? Why are those the unthinking kinds? And who’s more lost or hopeless than the blind leading the blind? The most amazing love happens at first what? Right, sight. Seriously?
This July was the one-year anniversary of my accident, and I was shocked to find it hot again. Time was keeping its same pace, even though for me, the world had flipped onto a flat axis where days were dark and nights lit up my mind.
Hot didn’t make sense, and neither did the idea that a year had passed. I had missed half of ninth grade and spent the second half at a place called the Briarly School for the Blind. Until the accident, I never skipped thirty seconds of Lake Main, the school I went to my entire life. And then all of a sudden I dropped out and found myself at Briarly, where they teach history and braille and cooking and laundry. My life was like a horror movie about someone else’s life. One I couldn’t watch. Briarly was for The Blind, and I was the blind. The truth is, I keep getting surprised by that, even though everyone else seems to have accepted it.
This summer, while my best friend, Logan, and all our friends from Lake Main were at the lake, shading their eyes, dipping in blue, falling in love, I was in summer school at Briarly, pressing the six long, flat keys of an old Perkins Brailler, listening, practicing, sliding and tapping my white cane, finding shorelines where the grass meets the curb, where the wall meets the floor, where each stair starts or stops. I was listening for traffic to the right, to the left, thinking, if I heard a chorus of engines rev, Stop! But if they idled, I thought, Okay Emma, okay me, okay, now you have the whole light, strike out, walk, okay, now, go. With chopped-up words in my mind and a million sounds and my ears and brain exhausted, I stuck my white cane out ahead of me, waiting to see—was anyone turning? Had I made a mistake? And if my cane remained uncrushed, then I struck out into the walk, tried to stay straight, to keep my body safely within the white lines. Hug the right, stay straight. I was working, focusing, trying not to panic, panting with the hope of being what the Briarly School for the Blind referred to as “mainstreamed,” my dad called “back on track,” and Logan and I knew was just me going back to real school. Back to Lake Main, to my actual life.
And then it happened; in August, we got the yes, the “paraprofessional,” the promise of “special-needs dispensations,” and even though it was humiliating and I still couldn’t see, I was going back to Lake Main, and a rainbow blew up around me. Logan was at my house, as always, and she grabbed me and we danced through the living room, until I banged into my older sister Sarah. She screamed at me, but I didn’t care. I had learned to walk, read, and survive life in my house and at Briarly, so everyone was assuming I could manage tenth grade at Lake Main.
I would get my assignments early, either braille or audio versions, and have my paraprofessional read the chalkboards out loud to me. I would eat in the lunchroom with Logan and have my life back. I was flying with pride, and so was my dad. My mom was terrified, but faking that she wasn’t. Sarah was furious that everyone was paying so much attention to me “again,” because I had used up my quota after the accident. And my crazy, lovely, oldest sister, Leah, was talking about how we’d walk every day and pick up the little kids from Lake Main primary, and how great it would be for all of us to be together again.
It seems insane now, but my family and I were actually— after one small, terrible year—backing into the warm groove of things-might-be-okay again. That’s how easy that mistake is. Even I had started thinking it, whatever it is, couldn’t hap- pen to us; had started feeling stupidly safe again, the way people do, even though we should know better by now.
Because right as I finished summer school and Logan and I were planning what I’d wear my first day back, a girl from Lake Main, Claire Montgomery, disappeared. At first we all thought her ultraconservative parents were exaggerating— she was probably just in the city again, since one time she’d gone for a day with her best friend, Blythe Keene, or maybe she had run away. But then the days multiplied, and it seemed like something might be really wrong, so people started freaking out and searching frantically. News teams came and circled like turkey vultures. Then the last Sunday night in August, when it had already started to cool down and smell like fall and school and burning leaves, Sarah screamed in front of the TV.
We all ran. I came last, sliding my cane along the hall- way wall, with my dog, Spark, barking in front of me. Spark and I hate screaming. I listened while everyone else watched.
Even my dad was home, because it was Sunday and he wasn’t on call for once. We were scattered all over each other and our huge gold couch, red chairs, tan rug. I was at my mom’s feet, on a pillow, one of my hands holding the ankle of her jeans. I felt the scratch of paint on the hem, wondered what color it was, what she had been making and when. Because she doesn’t paint anymore. Leah was on the floor next to me. “They’re showing Lake Brainch,” Leah whispered, her
voice quiet and steady in my ear, competing with the news- woman’s vicious report. The worst words tore up to the top: body of . . . washed . . . drowned . . . local teen . . . don’t know . . . foul play . . . haven’t said. I smelled lemons. Leah had leaned in toward me, set her head on my shoulder. “I’m Emma-izing,” she said, pulling my hand up to her face so I could feel her closed eyes, lashes against her cheek. “I’m just listening, too.” Words have vivid edges and colors now, and listening
to Leah is like being inside a book with glistening pages, or seeing the sun from the roof of our house. When I was little, Leah used to take me out there some mornings before anyone else was awake, including our parents or Sarah, Leah’s cranky, inferior, one-minute-younger twin. Leah liked to see the sun as it woke, and to show me, too. Now, when she speaks, I can feel each tile’s smooth curve and the way my body tilted into the rise of the roof. Mostly I remember what the sun looked like, hot over the sliver of lake we could see from up
there, hot over our small bodies. Like “our own burning gold balloon,” Leah once called it. She said since we were the only ones up, the sun belonged to us, even if just for a moment. And it was true. That sun is one of the things I can still see, in my mind. That and my mom’s face. I remember exactly what my mom looks like. Maybe because her voice and face are everywhere in our house, or because she keeps us all in a loose orbit around her, I still see her in a different way than I see anyone else. Now Leah and I will never climb out onto our roof again—Leah is seventeen and a senior and busy with college applications and I’m, well, it’s obvious.
I steadied myself on the floor in front of the TV, tucked my head, and rocked as Sarah said, “They found her body. Oh my god. How can they be showing this?”
I felt like I was falling. Sarah smells like pepper, and her words sound like stilts, hooves, or heels. She and Leah are each other’s opposite, maybe like most twins. Sarah’s hair is so dark it’s hard to believe her eyes could be darker, but they are. Flat, black, and glinty. Leah’s are almost black, too, but they shine like stones you’d hold in your pocket for comfort. When Leah tells me what’s on TV, it’s because she doesn’t want me to feel left out. When Sarah does, it’s so I’ll have to suffer, too.
My mom, slapped back to consciousness suddenly, took a sharp breath and stood.
“Benj, Jenna, time for bed!” she sang out in the cracked plastic voice she puts on to hide fear. She leaned over me to hand Baby Lily to my dad, and then herded the little kids out of the zone of dangerous news. My dad stood, too. “Come on, Benji,” he said. “Let’s take Lily to her crib.”
But they were too late. The scary part was over, and we had all heard or seen it. Naomi, who’s ten and not really a little kid anymore, but also not one of the big kids, asked, “Um, should I go to bed, too?” I felt bad for her. No one answered—maybe my parents didn’t hear—so I said, “Come sit on my lap,” and she did. The words had turned to cooking sugar over whatever the shot was: . . . beloved by her family and friends, the television was chanting. Friends say fifteen-year-old Claire loved animals and sports; she was a star on Lake Main Middle School’s Sweet Pea Synchronized Swim Team. According to authorities, foul play does not appear to have been a factor. What a shock to the tiny town of Sauberg, where residents are stunned by the occurrence of such a tragedy in their own backyards.
I buried my face in Naomi’s hair as a new reporter joined in, her words at first squeezed white and flat and then pumped up with the breathy thrill of someone dying. Someone young. Someone she didn’t know but we did. At least I didn’t have to see those anchorpeople with their mannequin faces, pre- tending to be heartbroken while they practically sang about misery and death. Since my accident, I’ve noticed that the
gorier and more horrible the story, the lower the reporters’ voices go; there’s a drumbeat under their words, a music that blooms and swells like it’s leading to a love scene. But it isn’t, at least not in Sauberg, where before Claire, the biggest story was my eyes, my “horrific tragedy,” as they put it, so everyone would look. Everyone except me.
And now Sauberg is in the news again because Claire’s dead—streaky-haired, allergic, freckled, daring, athletic Claire. Claire of the clear lip gloss and chipped front teeth, of the skin so thin you could see through it, of the lopsided smile and shockingly strong legs. Soccering, swimming, smoking, partying Claire. Claire of the usual contradictions times a thousand. The one who could do everything, including get in deadly trouble, better than the rest of us.
I’m probably the only one in Sauberg—including the toddlers—who hasn’t seen the footage of her body being re- moved from the lake. Which may be why I can’t believe she’s gone. Kind of like I still can’t fully believe I’m blind. If there’s any truth to that stupid expression “see it to believe it,” then what can I believe? I still wake up thinking, Okay, Emma, now open your eyes, and then—well, then nothing. I can practice the facts of my accident, just like I can repeat what I know about Claire: she drowned and washed up. But in neither case do the “facts” really help, maybe because facts aren’t exactly facts. They’re just names someone puts on what happened, and then we all repeat them straight into the encyclopedia. What actually happened to Claire? And maybe more importantly, why?
Maybe we can’t make sense of things like my accident or Claire because there is no sense. Maybe we’re all stunned numb because we thought my eyes were enough karmic tragedy for our whole town. We believed nothing else so terrible could happen again. Lightning twice? Not here. Not to us.
But actually, getting struck once doesn’t change your odds for getting struck again, and I spent my first day of mainstream tenth grade feeling like a lightning rod. In the Lake Main High School building, where I’ve been waiting to go my whole life, I was lost in a maze of friends I once knew but couldn’t see or understand, waiting to see what might electrocute us next. Most of them were too traumatized about Claire to care about anything else; some were angry that I had ignored them for the entire year since my accident, and others were vicariously curious in the way people get when something awful happens to someone else. It wasn’t exactly the homecoming Logan and I had dreamed of.
Logan tried hard to help. She kept a running commentary as she walked me down halls rushing with gossip I couldn’t quite get. There was so much movement and noise. I was in a
barrel, spinning and falling down some huge flood. I tried to push the thoughts of Claire and last year at Briarly back down into my bones, to focus hard on Logan’s voice. “Not a germ on it!” she said, and laughed until she snorted. Adrian Woyzniak must have walked by. I shared a desk with him in second grade, and one time he said, “Hey, Emma, look at this!” And when I looked over, he had unzipped his pants, and there it was, resting on the outside of his corduroy bell-bottoms like a forlorn class pet. I said, “Oh my god, Adrian!” and he responded, “Not a germ on it!” It’s Logan’s favorite thing anyone has ever said. Whenever she hands me anything, usually something to eat, she says, “Not a germ on it.”
Now she was whispering names in my ear. But even though I remembered all the people Lo could still see, it felt like none of us knew each other anymore, least of all me. And Logan didn’t seem to get that now I was one of the actual weirdos, someone who would probably never be normal or okay. Before my accident, we both thought that with enough of her influence, I might eventually be less of a silent shadow girl, but what hope is there now? If I was too shy to be any fun before my eyes, how will I ever be more like Logan after them?
“Oh my god, Elizabeth has gained another fifty pounds,” Logan said, and then, “Blythe got her nose pierced, and has on four-hundred-dollar boots I bet she stole from Claire M.’s closet—” Here she paused, and then decided to go the worse of two routes I could hear her consider: “Or her body.”
“God, Logan,” I said.
I reached down to feel my outfit: the usual striped hoodie, long-sleeve V-neck T-shirt, and jean skirt. I had on blue Con- verse with tennis socks, and pink, cat-shaped sunglasses with jewels in their corners, from Logan. She likes to accessorize, which means she’s always hanging scarves and necklaces and glittering things off us so we sound like wind chimes. I love this about her; she’s festive and likes to decorate things, including me. Even though she has no money, she has bought me eleven pairs of sunglasses since my accident, including the athletic ones with a band to hold them on. At first, she was big into encouraging me to take my glasses off whenever I was ready, but I don’t want to, and I’ll never want to, and I can’t even stand to talk about it. And she’s figured that out. So we haven’t mentioned it in months. Kind of like how we’ve stopped saying the words driver’s ed, license, and car.
As we walked, I tried to lead Spark, who Lake Main let me bring, maybe because they don’t know he’s not a real guide dog, or they don’t care, or probably they just figured it wasn’t worth arguing, since my parents fight so endlessly over everything that everyone else has to give in, just to avoid dying of exhaustion. Lake Main already knows that, because my parents love the separation of church and state, and famously made Lake Main take down all the Christmas decorations and remove “Away in a Manger” from the roster at the annual holiday concert.
All day I kept checking the parts of my body, making sure they hadn’t disappeared just because I couldn’t see them. I counted my fingers, felt my knees, ankles, and elbows. I had to work not to rock back and forth or tuck my head down, habits I started when I first got out of the hospital. Last year at the Briarly School for the Blind, the king of my ninth-grade universe, a boy named Sebastian, used to come up and hold my shoulders whenever I rocked. His hands were so confident they felt kind of rough, and he smelled like leather jackets and tangerines.
“Okay to rock out with me, Emma Sasha Silver,” Sebastian told me, “but you can’t do it with sighted people or they’ll think you’re a freak.”
“Please don’t call me Emma Sasha Silver,” I said. “Just Emma.” And I kept rocking. But every time I wanted to rock at Lake Main, I remembered Sebastian telling me it would make me look like a monster, and stopped myself. Because unlike Briarly, Lake Main was throbbing with people who could see me; everyone I’d been to nursery school with, in school plays with, eaten cookies and Jell-O and macaroni with my entire life. I didn’t want them to think I was a freak. And knowing them wasn’t the relief I’d thought it would be. Not just because
I stayed blind, but because they had all changed, too.
Logan held my hand and pulled me along, whispering about where classrooms were, the newly lime library (“someone barfed green paint on the walls; you’re lucky you can’t see it”), electronic doors to the gym. “Don’t trip on that backpack, Em.” We were on our way to the office to “check in with” Principal Cates, which meant reassuring her that Spark and I had gotten to school without dying, and that Logan would get Spark and me to my locker, English, art, and the lunchroom without us getting trampled, lost, or devoured by rubberneckers. At the end of the day, Logan was to deliver me to Leah, who would take me home. Leah. Leah was my walk home, my finish line; she was like an icy lemon drink at the edge of a desert I still had to cross.
Leah was hours away. The office smelled like the core of school-earth, an even more intense version of the hallway’s sloppy joe meat and hot Xeroxed copies, Bactine, Windex, sneakers, molding books. There was no laundry smell; there were no kitchens. I guess kids at Lake Main don’t have to learn “life skills,” or they get to learn them privately at home. The office, unbelievably, was noisier than the hall had been, and I couldn’t make any sense of the sounds until Principal Cates’s voice came both over the PA system and into my ears directly, because we were standing next to her. Her words doubled in my head.
“Welcome back back to Lake Main middle middle and high high school school.” I inched away from the door, thinking I might be able to avoid the echo if I could hear only the PA and not also Principal Cates’s live voice. I thought, Focus in, Emma, focus in. Logan followed me. “Where are you going?” I didn’t answer; tried instead to tune into individual words: We . . . are . . . thrilled . . . to . . . have . . . you . . . herethisyear. PleaseriseforthePledgeofAllegiance. I felt the thunder of chairs being pushed back, bodies standing, hands clasp- ing, and then more words, a chorus, vibrating under my bones and above me, the whole school shaking in unison with liberty and justice for all. At the end, I thought, as I often do, Okay, now I’ll just open my eyes. I can’t tell anyone that this still happens, because how stupid is it to keep getting re-surprised by what should be obvious now? After more than a year? I haven’t even told my therapist, Dr. Sassoman. She would just say it hasn’t been long at all and I’ve made amazing progress and blah blah yadda yadda. I don’t have to tell her anything anymore, because I already know what she’ll say. It’s almost like she lives inside of me. I shuffled back toward Principal Cates, disoriented, trying to feel
Spark ahead of me and Logan to my left.
“Emma Silver, glad to see you,” Principal Cates boomed. She shook my hand so vigorously I thought she might rip it out at the shoulder. Principal Cates is weirdly competitive. She was a runner when she was young, and then a running coach, and now she’s a principal who loves slogans. Her favorite is “Champions are made in the morning,” because she gets to school before dawn and roams the grounds, congratulating any other human being also running in circles before the sun comes up. Champions, in other words. She also likes to say, “Now is the time to do more than the minimum.” Until I lost my eyesight, she had no idea who I was. Which I preferred. I liked being invisible in my family, too, recording what I saw without being seen myself. I used to be the secret keeper of words, but in some very unfair way, being blind is the opposite of being invisible.
“Logan, we’re all counting on you,” Principal Cates was saying. “Be a team player, please, and make sure Emma gets to her locker and her classes.”
“Will do, Principal Cates.”
“Good-bye, young ladies.” No matter what comes out of her mouth, it’s a cheer.
And we were free. As if she were programmed to do it, Logan resumed her commentary instantly: “Oooooh. There’s Trey, more beautiful than ever. Be a team player, Emma, and go ask him if he wants to check out my Monday undies.” She laughed until she snorted again.
“You’re still wearing day-of-the-week underwear?” I asked. “Are you in third grade?” “They’re thongs.”
A crowd of people surrounded us suddenly, most of them to pet and play with Spark, and the first bell hadn’t even rung. I apologized to Logan for the nightmare of having to be my tour guide/bodyguard, but she slapped me and said, “Don’t be stupid. You’re famous. I’m living vicariously.”
I am famous in the gross sense that my showing up means that everyone has returned from the new horror of Claire’s death to the passé buzz about my eyes. But only for a moment. Claire’s “accident” is a distraction from mine— and even though this makes me mean, I’m grateful for the weird demotion from worst-luck-girl-of-all-time in our town. What happened to Claire is so much worse than what happened to me that it makes getting blinded seem sneezy and manageable. Of course, Claire doesn’t have to come back and face whatever her story is. Or the crowds of people telling it to each other. I couldn’t help wondering—if this was what my dad called “back on track,” then what was a track? And why be on one at all, let alone back on one? Maybe if there was anything worthwhile about being blinded, it was that it knocked me off the unthinking, lemming track I was on. For a moment, anyway.
Someone came up and said, “Hey, Emma, nice to have you back,” and I realized it was Coltrane Winslow, and I tried not to rock, managed to squeeze “Thank you,” out right from the top of my throat like a bird, just as an adult voice, maybe belonging to a teacher, came from above me: “Excuse me!”
I was still hoping to say something normal to Coltrane, who is a calm, really smart guy we all figure will be on the Supreme Court someday because his parents are both lawyers and he’s super ambitious and fair and nice to everyone. But I was dizzy and unsure if Coltrane was even still standing there when the big voice interrupted. Whoever it belonged to had cleared a pathway, because she was standing right in front of me. And judging from how high up her voice was, she was apparently the Jolly Green Giant.
“You must be Emma Sasha Silver,” she boomed, so loud it sounded like she was standing on a building shouting down into a megaphone. I knew then that she was my “paraprofessional,” Ms. Mabel, because who else would be in the hallway armed with all three of my names? My parents had met her over the summer, but I’d refused to come.
Logan sang, under her breath but not quietly enough for my taste, “Wonder Woman, Diana, Princess of the Amazon!” I tried to slap her quietly, but missed, and ended up waving my arm around like some kind of useless flapper. Spark perked up, anxious to see why I was moving and whether we were headed somewhere. I bent and petted the top of his head. It was hard to stand back up, honestly. As soon as I touched Spark I wanted to fold up on the floor next to him. But I didn’t. I stood back up, straight, like I was proving to myself that I could.
“Are you Ms. Mabel?” I asked.
“Yes, dear. I certainly am. May I walk you over to English class, Emma Sasha, and help get you situated? And who is this?”
“Um, my friend, Logan.”
“Hi, Logan. And your dog’s name?”
“Oh,” I said, realizing that she had meant Spark the first time and I had introduced Logan. I flushed. “He’s Spark.”
“Hello there, Spark,” she said. “Come, Emma Sasha, we’ll go meet Ms. Spencer.”
I wanted to tell her that Sasha is my middle name and I prefer to be called just Emma, like a normal person, but I couldn’t think of a way to do so politely, and anyway, as soon as Ms. Mabel took my hand, Logan said, “See you after class, Emma Sasha! Good-bye, young lady! Be a team player!” and took off, laughing and snorting down the hall. It was the first time all day that I’d been away from her, and my knees wobbled as I took my first solo steps. I wondered if anyone was watching. Or everyone.
Logan had promised both my mom and me that she wouldn’t leave my side for a single second except during English, because I’m in accelerated and she’s in regular, what she calls Lobotominglish. Logan doesn’t care about school and she hardly tried last year in ninth grade, because her dad moved away to California and I got blinded and went to Briarly and
she skipped a bunch of school and didn’t turn in her papers, so she got put in the lower-level class. It’s not because she’s slow. She’s amazing at the things she cares about. But in my family, if you don’t turn in an English paper, you might get executed or, worse, disappoint Dr. Dad, so none of us would ever skip a single class or turn in anything thirty seconds late, let alone miss an entire paper. Well, except Sarah, who didn’t start her college applications on time and apparently also got a snake tattoo around her ankle, according to Leah. But our parents either think the snake itself is punishment enough or they pretended not to care that Sarah had defiled her skin, because Leah said they just shrugged and Sarah’s been wearing kneesocks lately. Sarah once joked in front of me that it was a good thing I got blinded in the summer, or I might have missed a day of school, God forbid. Of course that was before I had no choice but to miss half of ninth grade. And who knows how I might be this year, who I am now?
Spark nosed my leg, which gave me enough confidence to keep walking. And Ms. Mabel lowered her giant hand onto my shoulder and guided me, pointing out the girls’ bathroom, the teachers’ lounge, rooms 214, 216, 218, and then, maybe sensing how overwhelmed I was, she tried small talk and told me her family had lived in Sauberg for three generations, her father was the chief of police for forty years, and she lived with him until he died, and yadda yadda. Maybe she hoped she’d be the Anne Sullivan to my Helen Keller. Then she asked about my family. I said there were seven kids, and she whistled low under her breath, and thought about my parents having sex while I thought about her thinking about my parents having sex. Whenever anyone finds out that there are seven kids in my family, they imagine my mom and dad having sex. I mean, be honest. You hear “seven kids,” and you’re immedi- ately like, “Wow, those people love having sex. It’s all they do. Constantly.”
When we finally arrived at English, I was exhausted and ready to go home and hide under the cushions of our gold couch. I heard frantic scratching and clicking, and smelled so much white dust I felt like I’d swallowed a hopscotch. Spark sneezed.
Ms. Spencer either didn’t notice Spark and me, or she chose not to say anything as we settled ourselves in the first row. I was grateful to be left alone. “I’ll read what she’s writing on the board as soon as she’s done,” Miss Mabel told me.
Ms. Spencer was scribbling so fast and wildly I wondered if we were starting the year with The Odyssey (which Leah read to me when I was frozen on the couch, missing ninth grade, and trick or treating, and homecoming, and everything else). Maybe Ms. Spencer had decided to transcribe the entire text in chalk. A piece snapped and I heard it hit the floor.
People were shuffling in, some pausing to gasp over the
sight of me, others stopping to say hi, maul Spark, or marvel over my HumanWare brailler, the one Sarah made sure I was aware cost almost six thousand dollars. Ms. Mabel read the board into my tired right ear: “Assignments, reading, writing, journal, two analytical papers. Books: A Raisin in the Sun, Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Stranger, The Inferno, Antigone.” I jotted the titles down in my brailler, and Ms. Mabel stayed the entire time, telling me whenever Ms. Spencer wrote anything on the board, which was approximately seven hundred times a minute. Had teachers always written on the board this much? How had I not noticed, and how would I ever manage without help? Before my accident, I would have celebrated extra hours to write my in-class exams or finish assignments. But now that I need extra time and someone else to read the board to me, I feel furious and proud and want to show everyone that I don’t need anything “special,” even though I clearly do. I hate the word special.
I was considering this when someone started crying un- controllably. I didn’t know who it was, except that it wasn’t me, thank god. No one was surprised; since Claire, crying is like clearing your throat in Sauberg. People walk the streets weeping. Ms. Spencer just clucked her mouth and said there were grief counselors downstairs to help us “deal with our feelings.” When class ended, Ms. Mabel stayed to talk to Ms. Spencer about getting me my assignments in advance so she and I could translate them into braille, and I tuned them out until they were done, when Spark and I felt our way toward the door and stood there groping around for Logan. But she wasn’t back yet.
“Hey, Emma,” someone else said, and I recognized Blythe
Keene’s musical, twinkling voice.
I thought maybe I could feel her gloaty, working eyes bore a hole into my face, like she was trying to melt my sunglasses and get a glimpse of the damage. But then she put her hand on my arm and said, “Welcome back.”
I said, “Thanks,” and she left her hand on my arm, like she wanted me to know she was still there, or was going to lead me away or something. People are weirdly casual about touching me now. It’s like I have to see by feeling, so everyone gets to feel me. Or maybe they just don’t want to shock me; it’s like the animal way of warning some other animal that you’re nearby and aren’t going to pounce. The truth is, I was surprised Blythe had come up to me at all. She’s like a dream girl, beautiful and funny and, I don’t know, herself, I guess. She doesn’t try as hard as everyone else, and she never has. I don’t know why. She didn’t ask how I was, and I was glad.
But then I couldn’t think of anything to say and we were standing with her hand on my arm, so I asked how she was.
She said, “I’m managing,” which was very Blythe—honest, not insane or melodramatic or anything, just okay and true. Because Blythe and Claire were best friends like Logan and I are. Inseparable. So even though Blythe’s life is perfect in every way, it’s also ruined. Then she offered, super casually, to walk with me to art. She wasn’t like, “Can I medevac your basket-case ass to art class because you’re blind flying the halls”; she just said, “Wanna walk to Fister’s together?” like we were old friends. Which I guess we are, in a way. I mean, I’ve known Blythe my whole life, but it’s not like she’s ever really paid attention to me.
I tried to say, “Sure, thanks,” in a normal human voice, without crying or throwing myself into Blythe’s arms. I didn’t wait for Logan, just followed Blythe like a pitiful puppy.
When Blythe said, “Hey, Zach,” my heart catapulted up into my throat. Zach Haze. I tried not to rock, not to turn my head too wildly toward the sound of his voice when he said, “Hey, Blythe. Hey, Emma, nice dog,” as if nothing had happened, a year and a half hadn’t passed, I hadn’t been blinded, and I hadn’t brought my K9 buddy dog to Lake Main after missing ninth grade. As if I weren’t an invalid. I knew if I opened my mouth I would barf my heart straight into the hallway, so I stayed mute, as usual. I’ve never been able to talk to Zach Haze. Once, in sixth grade, right after Benj was born, Zach asked me if my family was Catholic, even though he must have known we’re not, since my family is famously the only Jewish one ever to live in Sauberg. I’ll never know why Zach asked, because I tried so desperately to think of a fascinating answer that would engage him forever that I stood there for ten minutes like an absolute salt statue. And then he assumed there was something profoundly wrong with me, and never spoke to me again. Which is a tragedy, because I love him desperately. I always have. And he’s one of the few people who has only been made better by my new ability to listen closely: his voice is amazing, deep and smooth and patient—not like he’s slow or searching for the right word, but like he has all the time in the world to talk to you, and wants to mean what he says, so he gets his words right. They always sound sweetly musical, and you can feel the vibration of his voice coming up from the floor, so it shakes you up a little, makes your bones rattle and chatter.
As soon as Blythe and I got to the art room, Mrs. Fincter, alternately called by everyone Fister, Sphincter, or Spinster, pulled me aside to say, “I heard you were going to be in this section. Do you think you can handle a regular art class?” As opposed to what? Not handling it? Dying? Taking an irregular art class? I waited as long as I could. Mrs. Fincter knows my family because my mom is an artist, and even if she weren’t, she’d still be famous, just for rocking her Old Mother Hubbard vibe so hard. But I didn’t know if Mrs. Fincter liked my mom or not, or how she thought of us. “Um, yeah,” I finally said. “I hope so. I have—”
I was going to tell her that Ms. Mabel could help me, but she interrupted. “I guess we’ll have to come up with an individual plan of study for you.”
Blythe was probably still nearby. I wondered if she was listening to me and Mrs. Fincter, hoped not.
“Okay,” I said, wanting the conversation over. I wasn’t able to tell whether my individual plan of study was a happy challenge for her as an artist, teacher, and person, or a horrible inconvenience. But since I had actual problems to deal with, I put Mrs. Fincter’s feelings about me where they be- longed: under who has time to give a shit about this? I just let Ms. Mabel help me get my supplies ready so I could participate absently in our first free-drawing session. I felt the waxy ridges of the crayon create raised lines on my paper. I ran my fingers over the page, felt my drawing take shape while Fincter talked about how we heal through art and blah blah we could work out our grief through projects blah. I was thinking it would be nice to heal through someone actually telling the truth once in a while, when a girl’s voice asked, “Is that your dog?” and I jumped.
I didn’t know who had said it, or whether she meant Spark or my picture, because I was drawing a dog. Or even for sure if she was talking to me, although the voice was so close to my right ear that I assumed she must be. I nodded silently.Don’t rock.
“It’s pretty good,” the voice said, so she must have meant the crayon work. “That’s amazing that you can do that.”
“Thanks,” I said, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask who I was speaking to. Ms. Mabel didn’t say anything. Maybe she thinks I have to get my social life together on my own. Or maybe they only pay her to help me with my academic struggles.
Last year at Briarly, a blind girl named Dee said I should just ask who had come up to me, or who was talking, or whatever I couldn’t figure out myself. She said no one would mind, not even sighted people. We had just had this nauseating conversation because I asked where she’d gotten these delicious Korean pastries she was sharing with me and Sebastian, and she said, “My mom brought them back from Korea.” I asked what she’d been doing in Korea, even though I didn’t really care. And she was like, “Well, she was visiting my grandma, who lives there, because she’s Korean.”
My mind reeled backward and forward at the same time. I asked, “So your mom is Korean, too?”
Dee laughed. “That’s generally how it works, Emma,” she said.
“Are you Korean?”
“I’m half,” she said. “My dad is black.”
“Wow. I guess I’ve never seen you,” I said, and she laughed again, like we were bonding, but my throat started to burn, because I hadn’t meant it as a joke. In fact, it set alight a new dread in me, one that was hard to name. I knew nothing. How would I ever find out anything about anyone again? Without having to ask questions no one is supposed to ask?
Dee was someone I wouldn’t have been friends with at Lake Main, and I can’t even explain why this is, or what point there is in it, but since my accident, I can’t stop dividing the world up into things I do “because of it,” and things I “would have done anyway,” like there’s some ethical reason for me to do only things the “other Emma” would have done. But everything I’ve done since was something the new blind me had to do. So I can’t win.
Asking people who they are is obviously something I would never have done. And I don’t want to start now. So I said nothing to the mystery girl in art. I just ran my fingers along the lines I’d drawn again and again, unsure what color my sad crayon dog was, wanting to ask Ms. Mabel but not asking, dying to rock but not rocking. Maybe people make too much of having to know everything all the time. Maybe I can do fine without knowing who’s talking to me or crying in what class, who’s here and who’s gone.
One thing I know, maybe the only thing, is that I’m here. Claire is actually gone, in the permanent dark. Which is not the same as my dark. My dark is complicated and sometimes lovely. I have to keep reminding myself. I can hear and smell and feel the people I love, which is the opposite of absolute nothingness. I’m still alive. I’m still me—just this other me. It’s going to be fine. Right?
I said nothing in any of my classes, or the hallways, or the lunchroom, where I ate my clammy sandwich in a whirl of activity that felt dangerous. Logan translated the entire time, even told me who was eating what, but eventually I had to tune her voice out. All day I felt twisty and dready and alternately so hot I thought I might be feverish and so cold I was immobilized. I listened and tried not to listen, waited and tried not to be waiting, since what was I waiting for?
The final horrific event of the afternoon was a mind- and butt-numbing mandatory assembly. Logan and I sat together, and in a miracle coincidence, Zach Haze sat with us. As I parked Spark and my white cane at my feet, I couldn’t help thinking, If only. If only I was the old me, Emma of the working green eyes, sitting with Zach and Logan, I could endure anything, even this performance about how shocked we all were, how a loss like this, how a scholar athlete, how as a community, how healing. How grief counselors. How “avail- able to us.” How the hows made Principal Cates’s voice into the lowing of cattle in a field I was driving by. How none of it told us anything real about Claire, about who she had been or what had actually happened. We knew that our parents and teachers were calling Claire’s death an accident, but Principal Cates didn’t come near any words with actual information in them. What kind of accident? Had Claire killed herself? Slipped into the lake alone? What could she have been doing there by herself?
I sat as still as I could, focusing in and, for some reason, imagining reds: Twizzlers, lipstick, traffic lights, blood. Logan passed me a sticky, already unwrapped Jolly Rancher, whispered, “Not a germ on it!” and I tasted the joke and the pink bloom of fake watermelon in my mouth at the same time. Logan and Zach whisper-bantered about the bullshit assembly, school, the bright world they were still part of. While I listened. While I felt terrified, like Claire’s and my tragedies—even though they’re not related and hers is worse—melted together into one dark.
Then it was three fifteen. Leah swept me up from Logan at my locker, and carried me home on a wave of my sisters. Leah asked me a million questions about my day, her voice full of awe and joy. I complained about the assembly and Mrs. Fincter. Leah grabbed me into such a violent hug that I thought Spark might attack her. “You made it through your first day, though! I knew you could do it! What did people say? Did they stare? How was Logan? How was Ms. Mabel? Did you see him?” She dropped her voice to a whisper, even though she didn’t even say Zach’s name out loud.
“I didn’t see anything,” I said, and she laughed her howling belly laugh, which made me laugh until I almost felt like it had been kind of funny, even though nothing had seemed at all funny while I was still at school. Leah always puts me somewhere other than where I’ve been. On the roof of my life. I wish I could do that for Naomi, but I don’t know how. Especially now.
Leah darted into Jenna’s kindergarten room and came out with Jenna, both of them singing “Down by the Bay,” Leah terribly, ear-wreckingly out of tune, and Jenna with her shocking, little-kid glass voice, her own verse, all the notes lining up just right: “Have you ever seen a fish stick wearing ketchup lipstick?” She and I are the musical ones; she has perfect pitch and I can hear it. I used to love piano, singing, any music, really. And now Jenna does.
Naomi came out of her fourth-grade homeroom with a drawing she’d been working on all day. She kept holding the open notebook, coloring as she walked out of the school and down the eleven front steps. Leah said she should wait until we got home to keep working on her picture. Naomi said, “Emma gets to walk without looking. And it’s a comic.”
“My bad,” Leah said, “but please stop working on your comic while we’re walking.” I don’t know if Naomi obeyed or not. At the bus stop, Benji bounced off the preschool bus like a Super Ball, terrifying Spark. I could feel us rolling home like a force, a five-star Silver parade, missing only Sarah and Baby Lily. Naomi was now busy directing Benj and Jenna to stomp on all the cracks, and to guess how many steps we were from home, while she counted to see who was closest. I wasn’t allowed to participate, because I had the advantage of having figured out how many steps there are between most places in our house, so I was “too good at it.” Naomi is a busy person, always making crafts, rules, or games; she never slows down. She’s the leader of the little kids, but lately she’d rather be one of the big kids. I get that, since there are so many things I can’t do that I sometimes don’t know if I count as an actual big kid anymore.
Our walks home are how the slow hours of that first day morphed into a week and then that week into two and three and a month, and even I settled surprisingly into the dim lull of school. Everyone wanted something: good grades; a starring part in the Lake Main Players’ production of Annie Get Your Gun; someone to go to the first football game with; someone for the second game; an escape from parents, from church, from whatever was eating away at your particular in- sides; to get a driver’s license; to get a car, a boy, a girl, some- one else’s lips or body pressed against theirs. Meanwhile, I just wanted to make it from room to room, not to get hit by a car or pitied too much by anyone but myself. To keep doing well in school, which used to be easy for me, but maybe won’t be anymore, with Ms. Mabel and my brailler and my ears. I just want to stop thinking about forever in the dark and my endless, claustrophobic tunnel of a future. Because I’ll never drive or get a job, or get married or lose my virginity. Maybe I’ll never even kiss anyone.
Because how will Zach Haze—or anyone—fall in love with me now? I’m definitely not invisible anymore. Everyone has noticed me now that I’m “famous,” as Logan says. But having everyone know who you are isn’t fabulous if it’s be- cause you’re the star of a gruesome tragedy. Or because you’re disfigured. The way people stare and fuss makes me feel like I’m trapped under a magnifying glass, gasping and sweating, in danger of catching fire. Again.
Excerpted from "Blind"
Copyright © 2016 Rachel Dewoskin.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I wanted to read Blind because I am drawn to books dealing with disability or mental illness. I wanted to get inside Emma's head and find out her story. It is pretty agonizing for her, and I can only imagine the huge change that it would make on your life. She is angry, questioning what makes life worth living and exploring those things. The details seem so realistic... How she is so overwhelmed when she first goes back to school, all of the noise, not knowing who is talking to her, the crowds and everything being so much harder for her academically. She can't read the board, or pay attention as well because noise at times is like an assault to her. She keeps opening her eyes and being surprised when she is still in the dark. It just endears her to me. After her accident, she was screaming and refusing to do anything and I think that is so realistic. I could see that being my reaction. But it starts to change and she gets the curiosity and drive to try to get back into the game of life when she gets a K9 buddy, a dog named Spark. He loves her just the same and it is a constant for her. He isn't a seeing guide dog persay, but he did have training. I adored her best friend and sister Leah. They were by her side whether she wanted it or not. Logan (female best friend) tries to keep her up to date with what is going on and helps her from class to class. She wouldn't take no for an answer in her darker days and kept coming back to visit her. And speaking of her family, there are 7 kids. It is pretty unique to get to read about a family like that and I think it was a good element. From the younger siblings we get to see the tender moments and also the questions that no one else will ask, and from the older we see the support. Emma's parents are polar opposites but they make it work and they are present in kids lives even when they sometimes agree to disagree how to handle some of the issues that arise. And the element of the teen missing and then found? It was an okay element for me, but I wasn't overly crazy about it. I think it did help to keep the town and other teens from school from focusing too much on Emma, and it gave her another tragedy to come alongside and realize that while being blind sucks, at least she is alive. It is also an avenue for the teens to get together, get to know one another better as well as finding their safe place to talk about tragedy. The romance is pretty light in this one, but I was okay with it. During most of her dark time, I think that it would have been unrealistic. But I will say that the romance that was there wasn't quite the direction that I expected it to go, but I was still pleased with it, and think that it fit the tone of the book. I really enjoyed watching Emma grow, the amazing family that she has, and the support from Logan (even though their friendship was tested, and that it evolved) and her other friends that she learned to lean on and begin to let in bit after bit. Emma was well on her way to figuring out how to live as a person who has lost her sight, as well as into a beautiful and strong person. The ending was nice, and gave me completion. Though I wouldn't mind more time with these characters, and I was sad for the time to end, I like how it wrapped up and where it left me in Emma's story. Bottom Line: Journey of a girl finding her way in a world without sight. Also firmly a story of family and friendship.
“Blind” is a young adult fiction novel written by Rachel DeWoskin. It was published by Penguin Young Readers Group in 2014, with a number of 394 pages. The novel explores the themes of blindness, identity, death, disability, life and friendship. At the age of fourteen, Emma Silver was blinded by a 4th of July firework. She had to re-learn how to live, how to survive in the world without her sight. A year after her accident, a girl was found dead in a lake, an apparent suicide. Emma started gaining more confidence in herself, helping people and gathering a small group of teenagers to talk about what happened in their town. She eventually realized that, even if she was blind, she still had a life to live. Rachel DeWoskin did an outstanding characterization job with the main character, Emma. The novel starts with a self pitying Emma who shuts out everybody from her life. She refuses to accept her blindness. However, two years after the firework accident, Emma is a new person. She has finally realized that she has a life to live, full of opportunities and joy. She tries to help Annabelle, a 9-year-old girl who became blind, she decides to talk about the suicide with a small group of friends and she goes skiing with the Briarly kids. Her gradual character development is simply stunning. DeWoskin did a lot of research about the blind culture and it can be noticed through the novel’s pages. The reader can empathize with Emma, understand her rage, feel it. The amount of details in the novel is amazing, DeWoskin clearly knew what she was writing about. “Blind” is a must read for everybody, children and adults, because it is a novel that can make the reader feel something. I personally loved all the characters, the plot and DeWoskin's writing style. It might be a little slow at the beginning, but it's worth it. Reading about blindness can literally change someone's point of view. It makes you think about life and how lucky we are to have our sight. It makes you wonder how many things we take for granted, while other people can't have them anymore. Life is unfair but beautiful and it's worth living it.
What starts as an ordinary fourth of July watching the fireworks becomes something much worse in an instant when Emma Sasha Silver is blinded by a stray firework at the age of fourteen. A year after the accident, Emma is still learning how to negotiate her large family, school, and everyday tasks without her vision when one of her classmates in the suburban town of Sauberg is found dead. As she struggles to make sense of this sudden death and her own drastically changed life, Emma wonders if losing her sight means she has also lost her chance at a bright future in Blind (2014) by Rachel DeWoskin. DeWoskin offers a well-researched and much needed story. Emma is a capable heroine who negotiates her disability with the expected dejection as well as sudden moments of grace. The narrative is well-informed with Emma learning how to organize her life as well as travel with a cane as she begins to accomodate for her lost vision. While this is a valuable story, DeWoskin's efforts to describe Emma's world in the form of sounds and textures can feel excessive. Similarly, side plots involving tested friendships, a large family, several crushes and musings about the death in town make this contemporary story convoluted and detract from Emma's growth in the final quarter of an otherwise lengthy novel. Although Emma is fourteen going on fifteen, she often feels and sounds younger giving Blind crossover potential (aside from some kissing and bad language) as a middle grade as well. Emma remains strong and resilient during the story and gives a face to an often under-represented group in YA stories. *A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*
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