Vrabel, Beth. A Blind Guide to Stinkville
October 6th 2015 by Sky Pony Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Alice is not happy that her family has moved from cloudy Washington state to Sinkville, a Southern town where her father is the manager of the local paper plant that gives the town its distinctive stink. Her father is busy, her mother is depressed, and she needs a ton of sunscreen. It also doesn't help that "back home" everyone knew that Alice had vision difficulties because of her alibinism, and in the new town, she finds herself constantly having to explain. She meets Kerica at the town library and is glad to have a new friend, especially since her old best friend is moving on with her life. Alice is less thrilled with Sandi, who also spends a lot of time in the library. Alice has a lot of trouble navigating the new town by herself, and her brother James has found other places to be, so Alice takes her dog, Tooter, many places with her, pretending he is her guide dog. There is a town writing contest about success stories in the town, and Alice manages to find a lot of them while trying to find her place in the town. She's particularly fond of elderly whittler Mr. Hamlin and gets to know diner owner Gretel and learns about the town's involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s from Mayor Hank. Alice also tries to help her mother, a former photojournalist, snap out of her depression by showing her the town that Alice is coming to enjoy. There are further complications involving Tooter's health and Alice's school placement, but in the end, things turn out fairly well.
Strengths: This was a hopeful book about a middle grade student managing her diverse abilities with a small but devoted support system. Alice feels sorry for herself sometimes, like all middle grade students do, but also wants to show her parents how she can take care of herself. The community is vibrantly drawn and the setting adds a lot to the story. Despite the sad parts, I enjoyed this.
Weaknesses: A lawsuit, dog health problems AND a mental health breakdown for the mother? That's a lot to address in one book, although the length is still very manageable.
What I really think: I think I will buy this one. It addresses sight impairment from an interesting angle, and will appeal to readers who like realistic fiction or problem novels. I wanted to slap the mother, but that's a personal objection. Thought this captured middle grade sentiment much better than this author's Pack of Dorks.