Blind Spot by Laura Ellen – Reviewed by Brian Wyzlic

Just look at that gorgeous cover.

Quick: name the last YA mystery that you read that kept you turning the pages all night? I’ll wait.

For those of you more up-to-speed on your YA mystery stuff than I am, you might have a list for me (by the way, please leave that list in the comments – I think we could all use more mystery!). If you’re like me, though, you love a good murder-mystery. Toss in some teenage intrigue, and we’ve got something going. And if somehow the entire plot can also be a metaphor that is delivered to the reader in a simple, elegant, 2-word title? Well, then you’d have Blind Spot.

This debut novel from Laura Ellen opens right at the middle of the plot. Tricia Farni’s body is found. And Roz (short for Roswell) seems to remember some things about the night she went missing. But…only some things. The details are a bit hazy. What did happen that night? Who is responsible for Tricia’s death? Why can’t Roz remember the things most central to these events?

The book then goes back to tell the story that Roz can remember: what led to that fateful day. What led to Tricia and Roz knowing each other at all. And why Roz is so angry.

You see, Roz has macular degeneration, which causes her to see large spots in her vision, the most notable one being right where her focus would be (catching the “blind spot” metaphor yet?). Because of this, she is put in a special ed “Life Skills” class. But she adamantly refuses to acknowledge her need for this. She does have an IEP, but this only has one accommodation: she must be allowed to sit up front in class. No Life Skills class required.

Enter Mr. Dallian. He teaches Life Skills (and AP History, also a course Roz takes). Life Skills is now mandatory for anyone receiving special needs services. That includes everyone from the severely autistic Bart, to the legally blind Roz, and yes, the possible psychotic Tricia Farni.

Raise your hand if you’ve seen Mr. Kotter. You, raising your hand shouting “OOOH! OOOH!” you know what I’m talking about. You, kind of shaking your hand back and forth in the same motion you’d use if you said “asi asi” in Spanish…go watch a couple episodes. Anyway, the Life Skills class in this book feels like that class. The whole class is very tight-knit and looks out for each other. One student brings in baked goods every morning. They are even paired with each other to make sure everyone’s doing okay. Roz, in case you’re wondering, is paired with Tricia.

And then there’s Jonathon. He’s a student aide in the class. Hockey player. Easy on the eyes. Tough on the heart. You know the type. Well, he has an eye for Roz. And she has weak knees for him.

Before you let yourself get fooled, though, this story isn’t about the romance between then (though there is some of that). I mean, Tricia’s body? Remember that? Yeah. That’s still where we’re headed. No getting around that. But while we’re chewing on that nice piece of meat, Laura Ellen gives us some really tasty potatoes to complement our palate.

Roz and Jonathon, with their beginnings of high school attraction, team up to help Tricia score some weed. This is to help her cope with her heroin addiction. Well, then things went a bit sour at the homecoming dance, and Roz is left trying to piece it all together. Her friends are leaving her. The cops are breathing down her neck. Can she see through the blind spots in her memory and figure out what really happened in time?

I could go on and on. But it’s a Wednesday and you have things to do. Let me say one more thing about this book. It is not an issue book. I know, I know. “But the main character has macular degeneration and that is an important plot element and symbol.” Yes. So is the pearl in John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, but I wouldn’t classify that as a book about oysters. It’s an important part. But it is NOT the focus. This book is not about Roz reaching some clarifying moment about her disability. It’s about Tricia Farni and the fact that her body was found one day. That’s kind of a big deal, if you ask me.

So, are you looking for a good YA mystery? Check out Blind Spot. A word of caution, though: I can really only recommend this for high schoolers and older. There are fairly explicit drug references, including GHB, as well as sex – consensual and otherwise. That may be a bit much for even mature middle schoolers, depending on their ability to handle things like that.

But hey, you’re old enough to enjoy this book, right? Then guess what? You can win a SIGNED COPY of it! All you have to do is enter below. No gimmicks, no games. Just fill out the needed information. One winner will be selected, and then BAM! Free book! Pretty awesome. Enjoy!

Brian Wyzlic is a big Detroit Tigers fan, so please don’t bring them up this week. He’s in a bit of mourning. He can be found inside his body, which is often in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but will be in Las Vegas for all of NCTE and ALAN. He tweets at @brianwyzlic and blogs every couple weeks or so at WyzReads. He thinks you’re pretty awesome, and he wants you to give the closest person to you a high five. A “pound” is an acceptable replacement, provided you either explode it or do the rocket ship.