Natalie O’Reilly is one motivated girl. She works hard for her grades, at student council, at her family’s farm, and with her goats. And, despite her doctor’s prognosis, she is determined not to go blind.
Several years ago, Natalie’s range of vision began to narrow. After several surgeries, eye drops, and learning to maneuver beams, curbs and other unseen obstacles, she finds she can get by just fine. And while her doctor makes no promises for the future, Natalie has every intention of getting by just fine forever.
But slowly and surely, her field of vision gets narrower and narrower, and Natalie has to learn more and more ways to cope. Finally, the day comes when she has to face the inevitable: She will soon be completely blind. Natalie refuses to admit defeat. Much against her will, she agrees to enroll in a school for the blind. There, she will learn the skills that will help her function as a productive member of society – who happens to be blind. She agrees to go through the motions of learning, but she absolutely does not agree that she will ever need these skills. Natalie is sure she will never be blind.
When Natalie arrives at her new school, a boarding school five hours from home, she isn’t an immediate hit. Back at her old school, she had organized the student council to raise awareness about special needs students. Now that she has special needs, though, she sees those students very differently: “I don’t want to be a freak.” Ouch. She’ll have to change that attitude if she doesn’t want enemies.
Of course, she does change her attitude, and she does make friends, even though she has no intention of planting roots in the blind community. Natalie’s problem is not that she isn’t kind or smart. She is just scared. Scared to accept her new life, scared to venture into a world that she doesn’t yet know how to navigate. As her story progresses, she is faced with more and more challenges. Some she turns her back on, but some she has no choice but to live up to. While many involve learning to overcome her fear of blindness, she does face terrifying adventures that would have been frightening even if she could see what was happening. It is during those scary moments that she realizes how far her new skills – and courage – can take her.
Before writing Blindsided, author Priscilla Cummings spent a year going to school with blind students. Her research definitely pays off. Natalie’s story gave me a ton of new insight into the lives of blind people. Page after page, I found myself discovering another small life task that I couldn’t imagine doing without sight – and then being impressed by how deftly Natalie’s teachers and classmates overcame the difficulty. They’re helped along the way with a number of technological devices; few, however, were actually available back at Natalie’s old high school.
As we learn about the unexpected challenges of being blind and the ways to face those challenges, so does Natalie. This is not a story about a girl going blind, but a story about a girl learning to see her true potential.