It's release day for A Blind Spot for Boys, from one of my favorite YA authors, Justina Chen.
I've been looking forward to this book for a year now, so I can't wait to share my review with all of you!
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 12th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
As Shana and her family work to help her father come to terms with his diagnosis, she also learns what it means to find beauty and hope, in the most unlikely of places.
Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it's time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong.
Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don't just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana's interest. Right as she's about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously... Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.
When I heard about A Blind Spot for Boys, I totally knew that this was something that I wanted to read. Not only did the book have a unique-sounding premise, the fact that it was partially set in Machu Picchu - a place that I've wanted to visit - made me want to read it all the more.
Luckily for me, I was able to get an ARC from Little Brown!
Things that worked:
I knew from page one that I would like Shana. She's beautiful and intelligent, but she's also a girl who marches to the beat of her own drummer. She likes finding quirky fashion, and enjoys photography - which can often be a solitary hobby.
Chen makes it clear fairly early on that even though Shana may appear to be nothing more than a pretty and talented face to many of those around her, this is a girl who should not be underestimated. This is also a girl with baggage, something that Chen disseminates nicely later on.
The Parental Factor:
If you've read any of my previous YA reviews, you'd know that I'm a big advocate for parents making appearances in YA literature.
Shana's parents play big roles in her life, from sharing her hobbies, to just being involved in her life. So it's pretty unsurprising that when her dad announces his diagnosis, Shana and her parents rally together like a unit, to help him adjust.
Even as news sinks in and Shan and her parents take off on their trip, Chen doesn't hesitate to show just how much of an impact Shana's parents on her life, for better or for worse. The trip shows Shana's parents - her father especially - in all of the blunt truth of his diagnosis and his relationship with Shana's mother - which is a powerful mechanism of growth and reflection for Shana.
The location factor:
As a writer, one of Chen's biggest strengths is her ability to relocate her characters to a new or foreign location, and have them learn/be motivated by the eureka moments that come naturally with travel.
Chen makes fine use of Machu Picchu, using every winding path, muddy trail and awe-inspiring location to motivate her characters to think, and to look beyond their own lives.
The romance factor:
One of the best things I like about Justina's books, is the fact that her characters never let themselves get overwhelmed by potential romantic interests.
Even though Shana clearly likes Quattro, she's cautious and approaches her interest with hesitation. She remembers what it was like to be in a relationship that wasn't healthy for her, and wants to make sure that she's not making the same mistake twice.
While I can't necessarily speak for all readers, I do think that educators, parents and young readers will appreciate Justina's approach toward depicting an abusive relationship, and Shana's self-awareness in not wanting to repeat that cycle - especially when she see is play out in another relationship.
This is a topic that isn't always discussed in YA, so I appreciate Justina's willingness to take it on, and to show how it's possible to move on from that point.
Without giving any spoilers away, Justina brings her characters back to where they started - their home.
However, they're not in despair or anguish over Shana's father's diagnosis anymore. There's a tacit understanding that even if their future isn't perfect, and will likely involve difficult, almost unimaginable challenges, Shana and her family will undergo these challenges together.
Growth and maturity has changed every member of the family, and theirs is a future that they will face as a team.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
While Justina normally has a gift for writing about life's obstacles in a way where everything feels magical - see Terra's visit to China in North of Beautiful - Shana's time with her fellow hikers felt like Justina was checking off a mental checklist of quirky, but lovable characters that could help her protagonist become fully self-actualized.
There was the older woman who taught Shana not to shy away from always pursuing her goal; the handsome and rich couple who looked perfect, but whose subsequent falling out reminded Shana that the grass isn't always greener on the other size; and of course, the cute heroric boy who always happened to be there when needed.
While all of the lessons were undoubtedly valuable ones, I also didn't really feel like they had the sort of long-term impact that would truly impact Shana's outlook on life. I don't know. I think that if this had been any author other but Justina, I would have just accepted these life lessons for what they are.
But because it was Justina, I wanted more - as weird as that may seem.
The book's intelligent decision to focus on family and the continued development of familial love, over the idea of potentially fleeting romance, is a factor that likely also make this book a god choice for educators and parents who are looking for strong female characters for their younger readers.
I highly recommend the book for fans of Justina's, but also for fans who are looking for a contemporary fiction book where the protagonist is genuinely interested in learning about herself, and growing physically and emotionally.
About the author:
Justina Chen is the acclaimed author of young adult novels including A Blind Spot for Boys, Return to Me, North of Beautiful, and Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), which won the Asian Pacific American Award for Youth Literature. She is a co-founder of readergirlz, the online book community for teens, and lives in the Seattle area with her two children. Her website is justinachen.com.