A Blind Guide to Stinkville, by Beth Vrabel

One of my favorite books when I was a young reader was Light a Single Candle, by Beverly Butler, about a girl who goes blind and how she copes with her new reality.  My fondness for that book led me to look forward to A Blind Guide to Stinkville, by Beth Vrabel (Sky Pony Press, middle grade, October 2015) .  It, too, is about a girl who is almost, but not quite, blind, coping with a new reality, and though it really isn't much like Light a Single Candle, I enjoyed it for its own merits.

For Alice, her minimal eyesight is not new; she has albinism, with profound side effects on her ability to see.  But she doesn't think of herself as blind, because with a strong magnifying glass she can read print, and because even though the world is a blur, it's still a blur she sees.  But it's one thing to live in a blur of the place you've grown up in, and another to be transplanted to a strange town, navigating both a new external world of people and places (and realizing that your ability to be independent is not all that great), and navigating the changes it's brought to her family. Her mom is profoundly depressed, and Alice, her father, and brother, are all feeling rather fragile and tense as a result.  So there's a lot on Alice's plate.  And then her parents decide that she should go to a school for the blind....even as she's beginning to make a place for herself in the seeing world of her new town. 

Alice doesn't feel sorry for herself because she is different, but that doesn't mean she is a Pollyanna (always being Glad).  Her main problems (old friends and family and new friends who are tricky waters to navigate, and her dog being sick) are problems anyone might have, and though in Alice's case her differences don't make things any easier, her reality is her reality and she doesn't once think "if I were like everyone else everything would be better."  She does resist going to the school for the blind, because that's not how she defines herself, but she's sensible enough to realize, once she visits the place, that there are useful things she can learn that will help her grow in independence.

And so the thrust of the book is about growing and listening to other people's stories and finding a sense of place in a strange blurry (metaphorically) world of a new town.  Alice finds her anchor by taking part in a writing competition of essays about the town, and so in listening and thinking about the new place and people she puts down roots, and it is clear that she will thrive.

Light a Single Candle is focused very tightly on the main character's experience of blindness.  It has nothing about what the grown-ups are thinking; "problem" parents, like Alice's depressed mother, are much more common now than they were back in the 20th century when all we cared about was the kids.....The wider spread of issues in A Blind Guide to Stinkville offers a way to make the story of someone unusual, like Alice is, relatable someone whose story isn't all about her.  And so this is one that will appeal to fans of good middle grade realistic fiction, as opposed to the more narrowly focused group of fans of kids with disabilities, although it's certainly one that group will like too!

Humor is generously blended into a story that anyone navigating the new reality of growing up, and/or being relocated to a strange new town, can relate to, and the result is a warm, generous book that I enjoyed lots.  (And I would enjoy a sequel in which Alice gets a guide dog!  I think Alice would enjoy that too...)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. Light a Single Candle! Yes! And Gift of Gold, too. Sigh. This book just checked out today by one of my girls who likes problem novels, esp. When they involve medical issues. I liked this, but there was no excuse for the mother, whom I wanted to slap.

  2. I'm so glad to read your review! I just started this one this morning and already love it. I love her humor, I love the pacing, and Tooter cracks me up. I'm only about 1/4 of the way through and I know I have to order copies for my library.

  3. Thanks for telling me about this book. It sounds wonderful. I will definitely check it out.


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