“A Blind Guide to Stinkville” by Beth Vrabel is a middle grade book featuring an unusual protagonist, a girl with albinism. She has pale skin, light blue eyes, and nystagmus, a condition wherein the eyes flicker constantly, so it’s difficult for those with it to see. Alice, the main character, is almost blind.
When the family moves to a new town for the father’s job, they are all unhappy. The mother suffers from depression — acute depression — and she doesn’t function or care for Alice or her older brother. It’s summer, so Alice has her brother take her to the public library, where she makes a friend. Both Alice and her brother are very uncomfortable in this new town, where the very air smells from the paper mill.
Alice has many struggles there. She had grown up in a place where everyone knew who she was and also knew all about her blindness. Now she must explain her condition to everyone, and it’s difficult to explain how you are blind when you can read (even if she has to hold the book up very close). She takes her fat little dog with her everywhere, and people think it’s her seeing eye dog. Her father is too busy with his new job to pay much attention to the struggles of his family.
Alice is a beautifully conceived first person narrator. Vrabel does an excellent job developing Alice’s character and showing both her vulnerability and her strengths. The journey Alice takes that summer is one with which readers will enjoy following along. What Alice learns about those around her and herself makes this a story that is well worth reading.
The themes include not only disabilities, looking different, and trying to make friends in a new place, but also depression and senior citizens and dyslexia.
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