In the far future, Harmony is populated by the blind-by-choice, and for generations people there have been born blind. But 12-year-old Jacob inexplicably begins to develop sight. "This powerful debut novel is two parts science-fiction thriller and one part cautionary fable about the dangers of fundamentalism," said PW. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Stahler builds his story on a truly interesting premise filled with possibility: A colony of future Earthlings uses genetic engineering to actively choose to live life blind. It is a notion filled with potential. Into this well-portrayed but unusual colony, a dark and dreary place devoid of light, the author places a good cast of characters. The protagonist Jacob goes about his schoolwork and chores; his mother teaches music to the high councilor's daughter, Delaney; and the central conflicts become apparent. Delaney is profoundly unhappy being blind and wishes that she could see. Jacob, on the other hand, is slowly developing his sense of sight. While Delaney longs to see, Jacob is shocked to begin to get a feel for what a sighted world would be like. Unfortunately the story's premise never really develops any depth. There are no fascinating insights about anything that makes life different for this race of blind persons intellectually or emotionally. There is no amazing sharpening of senses, skills, or philosophical enlightenment that is the byproduct of this dramatic alteration of the senses. During his brief time of sight, Jacob makes a few rather mundane discoveries: Farm workers occasionally steal fruit that they pick, others steal food where they can, and some are unfaithful to their spouses. What seems like a very interesting idea ends up being only a mildly engaging story. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, HarperCollins, 192p., and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2004: In the isolated community of Harmony Station, on the planet of Nova Campi, everyone is blinda deliberate act of genetic engineering. Sight is considered "a deception, a distraction," and the members of Harmony value the social good above individualism. Jacob has always been an obedient child, willing to accept the community's many rules. At almost 13, he is just about to graduate from school and discover what specialization in life the council will choose for him. However, his faith in his world is shaken when an older girl he admires tries to reject its lifestyle and attempts to run away. When Jacob mysteriously begins to gain sight, he starts to question Harmony's values even more. His new vision enables him to see the corruption that underlies the community, and in the end he chooses to reject it and run away too, to save himself. Reminiscent of The Giver (perhaps a bit derivative) in its portrait of a controlledand controllingsociety, this SF coming-of-age novel will intrigue younger YAs. Tension mounts as Jacob starts to wonder about the world he had always taken for granted, starts to break its rules and comes into conflict with his parents and the authorities, and learns to appreciate the gift of sight. A strong debut novel. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 2004, HarperCollins, Eos, 245p., Ages 12 to 15.
Gr 5-7-Stahler debuts with a thought-provoking tale strongly reminiscent of Lois Lowry's The Giver (Houghton, 1993) in plot, tone, themes, and setting. Growing up in Harmony Station, a colony established on a distant planet by an association of blind people who have had themselves genetically altered so that their offspring will be blind, too, Jacob is approaching his pivotal 13th birthday when, in the wake of a series of severe headaches, he realizes that he can see. What he sees, besides previously unsuspected natural beauty all around, is that his supposedly pious, tightly knit, morally upright community harbors food thieves, adulterers, and hypocrites. Though most of the characters are only sketched, and Jacob displays a precocious ability to recognize colors and facial expressions, his agonized efforts to make sense of his bright, new, less innocent world make compelling reading. That readers will come away with the distinct impression that, at least in Stahler's view, the blind cannot lead independent, genuinely satisfying lives without sighted help and special technology constitutes a less attractive aspect to the story. Sentenced to surgical blinding after his secret comes out, Jacob flees at the end, like Lowry's Jonas, into an uncertain future. Fans of issue-driven fiction will find this novel absorbing.-John Peters, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The conflict between individual and society takes place in a poorly constructed dystopia. Like everyone else in the colony of Harmony, Jacob is blind. The original 22nd-century colonists had turned to genetically engineered blindness to separate themselves from the sinful, bigoted Seers. Centuries later, the Truesighted colonists are proud of their controlled and violence-free society. As Jacob approaches his 13th birthday, he learns of cracks in Harmony's purity: unevenly distributed food, government corruption, and the misery of his friend Delaney. As Jacob inexplicably gains sight (and becomes comfortable with concepts such as color and facial expression ridiculously quickly for a blind-from-birth boy in a blind society), he wonders if he can be reconciled to the rotten core of the only home he has ever known. An interesting concept marred by poor execution of the all-blind society and a too-evil villain. (Fiction. 10-12)