Recommended for ages 8-12
Twelve year-old Alice’s family has moved her from Seattle, across the country, to Stinkville – that is, Sinkville, South Carolina. It’s a paper mill town, her dad’s the new paper mill manager, and he seems to be the only one settling into their new life. Her mother is depressed, her brother is angry, and Alice sticks out like a sore thumb. Alice is an albino who needs to slather on the sunblock and wear hats so her sensitive skin doesn’t burn, and she’s legally blind – but she’ll be the first to tell you that she’s not that blind. She can see, but things have to be really close for her to see them.
Alice’s parents start talking about sending her to a school for the blind when school starts in the Fall, and Alice is furious – she’s always been in public school! She’s determined to start doing things for herself, whether it’s finding her way to the library or doing the laundry at home. She even enters the Sinkville essay contest and decides to tell the stories of some of the locals she’s met; and that’s when she learns that Stinkville may not stink so much after all.
This is a little book that tackles some pretty big issues: the Civil Rights movement, depression, special needs, for starters. Told in the first person from Alice’s perspective, A Blind Guide to Stinkville tells the story of a family and a town with humor and sensitivity. Alice is a normal tween: she wants to fit in, but she’s got something that makes her stand out. She wants to be independent, and her family drives her nuts. Most of all, she’s a new kid in a new town and she missed her friends – her best friend, who is moving forward with her life. It’s a lot for any kid to handle, and Alice’s sense of humor is her best defense – that, and her determination to advocate for herself.
Importantly, for me at least, it also provides a glimpse into parental depression and the effect it has on the rest of the family, and how the fight to “get better” is not that easy. Alice’s mom has good days, then a bad day will hit. It happens, and Alice’s brother James doesn’t always understand. It’s a realistic portrayal of the helplessness felt by parent and child, and there are no answers, just getting through as best as possible while sticking together as a family unit.
Readers will appreciate this book for its good story and likable characters. Parents and educators will appreciate how it promotes deeper understanding of different special needs – and how a kid is a kid is a kid at heart, really – and the subplot telling the story of the Civil Rights movement in the South. Great for discussion groups.
Beth Vrabel is the author of the 2015 Cybils-nominated book, Pack of Dorks, also from Sky Pony. The sequel, Camp Dork, will be coming in May 2016. Her author website offers a study guide for Pack of Dorks, an FAQ, and links to her blog and published writing.