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Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
Pub. Date: January 3, 2017
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Little, Brown BFYR!)
Summary: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

I’ll be the first to admit that, prior to reading Love and First Sight, I had no idea who Josh Sundquist was. I remember seeing some buzz for his previous novel, We Should Hang Out Sometime (and in grabbing that link just now I discovered it’s actually a memoir, not a fiction novel like I had assumed) and his bio says he’s a YouTube sensation, Paralympian, and motivational speaker, but that’s about it. I’ll also readily admit I’m a little hesitant to read books by celebrities – whether they’re Hollywood A-listers or YouTube sensations. That said, there was just something about Love and First Sight that caught my attention and I’m thrilled I read it!

Will has been blind since birth, but hasn’t let that stop him from living his life. Until now he had gone to a school for the blind where he learned not just English and History, but how to get around on his own, how to cross the street, how memorizing the number of steps and turns to get from point A to point B is crucial. However, his parents have decided to enroll Will into a mainstream school where he’ll have to navigate crowded hallways and cafeterias alone.

After a disaster of a first day, Will settles in to a routine, befriends a few students, and even develops a crush on a girl…then he receives the news of a lifetime: there’s an experimental surgery that could potentially grant him eyesight. After sixteen years of life totally in the dark, Will can finally see – and it’s not quite what he expected.

Here’s the thing. Story-wise, this novel was simply okay. It was an extremely quick read and passed the afternoon, but the characters weren’t all that memorable. Love and First Sight essentially boils down to your average high school romance. HOWEVER, the intense amount of research Sundquist clearly put into this novel went so far above and beyond all expectations and, just like Sonya Mukherjee’s Gemini (a novel about conjoined twins who have very different plans for their lives after graduation), Love and First Sight was full of tiny, little details I never even considered and it was this aspect of the book that made it worth reading.

Sundquist delves into science and the history of corrective surgery without ever sounding heavy-handed or overly academic. In his lengthy afterword, Sundquist cites an extensive number of studies and cases that inspired Love and First Sight. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that, after gaining eye sight, some patients just couldn’t adapt or that they had such high expectations for what the world truly looked like and when those expectations weren’t met, the patients simply lost the will to live.

Hands down, the most interesting parts of the book were the scenes where Will was relearning his shapes. I can only imagine how uncomfortable and embarrassing this would be for a teenage boy – especially since he learned by playing with his baby toys. There’s a toy I’m sure we’re all familiar with – a set of wooden (or, now, plastic) shapes that fit into cut-out holes. Will was eventually able to identify a triangle, but began panicking when he was unable to find it again. To him, it seemed to vanish and his mother couldn’t understand what was wrong. It wasn’t until she noticed the triangle had landed on its side, causing it to turn into a pyramid shape. There were several other scenes that stuck out for me: in one, Will and Cecily are at an art museum for a Journalism assignment. Will is allowed to touch the painting and he says he can feel a triangle in the paint but is extremely confused when Cecily tells him it was a road. Since Will has no concept of perspective or depth-perception, his mind can’t grasp the idea of a road far off in the distance becoming a triangle. The other scene that make a huge impact was when Will’s parents are helping him visually identify fruits. By now he has learned colors and knows the object in his father’s hands is red. His guesses are a watermelon and a raspberry. It turns out to be a grape, but this little bit of insight into Will’s brain showed once more how much I take for granted – Will can’t differentiate between large objects and small.

If the story had focused solely on this part of Will’s journey, I would have really enjoyed this book. However, that wasn’t the case. Throughout the book it was hinted at that Cecily doesn’t exactly meet the media’s/society’s beauty standards, though it’s never directly stated. Will’s friends clearly lie when they tell him what a gorgeous, smokin’ hot girl she is, and Cecily herself seems to be uncomfortable in public (or in front of a camera). After Will’s surgery he notices her face doesn’t look quite like other faces, but he doesn’t know why – until his mother mentions Cecily’s large birthmark is more of a disfigurement. This leads to a massive fight, deleted facebook comments, the whole works. I could have done without this storyline entirely. Cecily was such a lovely character and Will’s absurd reaction made me extremely angry.

SO, to make a long story short, Love and first Sight would have been a decent-yet-forgettable novel, but the sheer amount of research Sundquist put into this book took it to a new level. Everyday details I don’t even think about took on an entirely new meaning here and I love how Sundquist made me take a step back and think for a minute. The research and the grace and respect shown toward the blind/visually-impared community were what made this book stand out and, though there were a few things I wasn’t fond of (the ridiculous fight with Cecily, Will’s mother treats him like a child, etc) I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel!

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