|A Blind Guide to Stinkville
4 / 5
"Even I could see that Tooter was no Seeing Eye dog."
Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville.
For the first time in her life, Alice feels different—like she’s at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.
This is a stirring small-town story that explores many different issues—albinism, blindness, depression, dyslexia, growing old, and more—with a light touch and lots of heart. Beth Vrabel’s characters are complicated and messy, but they come together in a story about the strength of community and friendship.
This was a sweet little middle grade book. It was charming and adorable, while surprisingly also tackling a lot of pretty serious issues, such as bullying, disability, racism, and depression. The story centers around Alice, an albino girl who grew up in one place and has never seen her differences as being all that noticeable. When her father moves the entire family across the country, though, things change quickly. Alice's limited vision means she is reliant on her family to get her around; she cannot explore her new world on her own. This forces her into new situations and she begins to learn to become more self-reliant. As she does so, she also begins to forge new relationships with townspeople of all ages. She befriends a girls whose mother works as the children's librarian, an old man who spends his lonely days whittling, and a sweet diner waitress who immediately treats Alice like family. But Alice also encounters some of the less savory locals, and her family is dragged into controversy over their beloved dog. This, surprisingly, helps to bring her strained family closer as they band together to stand up for Tooter.
One of the topics I thought the book dealt with surprisingly well (outside of the obvious albinism) was that of Alice's mother's depression. I have not seen many books deal so honestly with the sickness, and especially not YA books. I appreciated that the mother would have her good and bad days as she struggled realistically to overcome those times when she just wanted to stay in bed, using the covers to block out the world she couldn't deal with. I could identify with this mother, despite wanting to shake her into being there for her unhappy children. It was difficult to read but so true to life that I could easily sympathize.
I also liked the character of Alice, a strong young girl who struggled to decide her own character and values as she learned her way around Sinkville. She began to discover herself, something she might not have ever been forced to do in her former life. The book also deals well in balancing Alice's need for independence with the necessity of certain special treatments. I think any kid would do well to read fun this book to understand more about the realities - both the struggles and triumphs - of life.
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