Review: A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Thank you!
Publication: August 9, 2016 by Sky Pony Press, imprint of Skyhorse Publishing
Verdict: Very Good/Excellent
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.
I can tell you this: children’s fiction continues to be a roll and Beth Vrabel’s work is a part of that wonderful ride. A Blind Guide to Stinkville is now the third book I have read by Vrabel in a relatively short span of time, and with each novel, I have grown increasingly impressed and fond of her writing and approach to middle-grade lit.
A Blind Guide to Stinkville follows Alice Confrey and her family as they start their new and very different life in Sinkville- aka Stinkville- South Carolina. From Alice’s terrifically written first-person narrative, readers are taken immediately and wholeheartedly into Alice’s life. Having moved from their beloved and relatively comfortable life in Seattle, Alice, along with her older brother James and parents, are having some troubles adjusting. In Seattle, Alice’s albinism and associated blindness were never an ‘issue’ or something to be known about her as a person: she had her brother and friends around and helping; she attended a public elementary school with her friends; she simply lived her life and knew her world very well. But in Stinkville, Alice suddenly stands out in a way she does want to.
With James increasingly reticent to look after her (wanting to have some private time on his own), and worried that her parents will decide to have her attend a school for blind kids, Alice takes matters into her own very capable (and honest) hands. What follows is a seriously affecting string of events that not only show Alice’s tremendous heart and conscientiousness, but also how Alice’s actions alter her family’s dynamics and their relationship to Stinkville. Alice is such a memorable character- so wonderfully developed, her young voice is so vibrant and nuanced, you just want to have the delight of actually meeting her one day! Covering a scope of weighty topics- everything from the pain of moving, loneliness, racism, parental mental illness, aging seniors, and navigating new friendships to albinism and conceptions about the spectrum of disability- Vrabel approaches every subject matter with consideration and makes it all so engrossing. There is also, I have to note here, a character by the name of Tooter in this book: an elderly Shih Tzu with a serious flatulence problem who is an essential part of the story. I mention Tooter not only because I adore the dog, but also because Vrabel shows a great skill in being able to blend unexpected laugh out moments of fart humour and serious, sudden heartache so well here.
Overall, I would definitely recommend A Blind Guide to Stinkville for any readers and fans of realistic, heartwarming and gently funny middle grade fiction. It looks as though there is a follow-up story, called A Blind Guide to Normal (from a different character’s perspective) due out in October 2016, and I for one cannot wait to read more. A story that has a very sweet, slight element of small-town magic (wonderfully and appropriately, Kate DiCamillo’s work is referenced in this book!), with main and supporting character bursting with unfeigned richness, A Blind Guide to Stinkville is truly a beautiful reading experience.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.