I was fortunate to receive an early ARC of this October debut, and I just about devoured it. I was on a trip with my family to my little brother’s graduation (he goes to college about 9 hours away), and I was very happy to read this along the way, but I was pretty upset when I was slated to drive around town all weekend! Not because I didn’t want to drive (as I somewhat knew the town), but because it meant I had to put this book down! So, let’s get into it.
The book opens with the middle of the plot. It’s fascinating, because we know the major turning point of the story at the outset (unlike John Green’s Looking for Alaska). Yet, nothing feels like it’s spoiled or revealed because of this. I like the choice of making the hook not just a hook, but a nice piece of meat to chew on for a while.
Our story revolves around Roz (short for Roswell, not Rose) and her life being relegated to a special-ed “Life Skills” class. She is adamant about not needing this. You see, Roz has macular degeneration, which causes her to see large spots in her vision, the most notable being one right where her focus would be. She must look to the side and use her peripheral vision to see things properly. The irony here, of course, being that if she does look someone in the eyes, that’s when she actually cannot see them at all. Anyway, she has an IEP, but this clearly states that she really only has one accommodation: she must be allowed to sit up front in class. Nowhere does it say she has to take a Life Skills class.
Except Mr. Dellian is in charge of her IEP now, and he happens to teach this Life Skills class (not to mention AP History). It is mandatory for anyone receiving special needs services. So everyone from the severely autistic kid, to the legally blind Roz, to the possibly psychotic Tricia are in this class.
This class has a feel of Mr. Kotter’s class in a way. Everyone is tight-knit and watches out for one another. One student even brings in baked goods every morning. Jonathon, a hockey player is an aide in the class (Mr. Dellian is also the hockey coach, which is believable, as there is a small-town small-school feel to this book). He has got an eye for Roz, and she has weak knees for him.
But don’t let yourself get fooled into thinking this book is about the romance between them (don’t worry; there is some). No, it’s much more than that. You see, Tricia has gone missing, not long after Roz and Jonathon help her get some weed to help her cope with her heroin addiction. Things went sour at the homecoming dance, and Roz is trying to piece it all together. The thing is, her vision isn’t the only thing that has a blind spot. There’s a lot of that night she can’t remember. She’s losing her friends as she dives further after the truth. The cops are breathing down her neck — can she see through her blind spots and figure out what really happened in time?
There are so many things going on in this book, most of them fantastic. First off, the cover. Whoa. I can’t believe how good the cover is. Secondly, the characters are phenomenal. Mr. Dellian, Tricia, Roz, Greg, Fritz (I love Fritz), Jonathon. . .it’s just a great cast. Every character is so real. Some of them may be a bit one-dimensional, but it’s also first-person narration. And who didn’t view some of their friends as “the ________ girl” or something like that in high school? Most of them are full, deep characters, and it’s neat to watch them all interact. I imagine it was fun to write with so many characters who have some pretty strong personas.
Also great here is the mystery. I’ve seen this categorized as a thriller, and I’d disagree with that a bit, but it certainly is a mystery. I mean, someone’s gone missing, and it seems like Roz should know what happened. . .but she doesn’t. So neither does the reader, though there’s just the right amount of foreshadowing going on in there.
The best thing, though — the BEST THING — about this book is that it is not an issue book. Does the narrator have macular degeneration? Yes. Does that impact the plot in a meaningful and not insignificant way? Yes. Is that what the book is about? ABSOLUTELY NOT. And this, I think, is exactly the way it should be.
Honestly, I could keep going, but I’ve rambled enough already. Okay, just a little more: there were a lot of parts in the beginning that I thought “the Printz committee should read this.” Not because I think it would win, but because it’s good, and it’s a debut. I think Laura Ellen has something going on here, and I’d like to see her write more.
Ultimately, though, I can’t give this 5 fish. It’s a solid book, I really enjoy it, etc., etc. But I think it tried to do a little too much at times. Also, the ending, while I liked it, was a little too rushed (in my opinion). But really, the nail in the 5-fish coffin: comparing Tesla to Buckcherry. Come on. I guess I just can’t be as open-minded about that as Greg. Now, excuse me while I go rock out to some “Modern Day Cowboy.”
I recommend this to high schoolers and up. I think the language and some topics (explicit drug use as well as references to drugs like GHB as well as sex — consensual and otherwise) may be a bit much for middle schoolers.