Thursday, September 18, 2014
Review: A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen
Title: A Blind Spot for Boys
Author: Justina Chen
Rating: 3 Stars
Chen's North of Beautiful utterly charmed when I first read it a few years ago and has continued to do so upon every re-read. Yet, for reasons unknown, I have not braved the waters of Chen's fairly extensive back list. I blame the horde of mixed reviews which accompany her work--her novels seem to be a hit or miss with most readers and, what's more, they vary depending on the title. I don't know many who actively like or dislike every title she's written--myself included.
A Blind Spot for Boys is a truly intriguing mix of a variety of topics, themes, and ideals. It introduces us to Shana, an ambitious young protagonist whose passion for photography and dedication to her fashion blog define her life. Well, that and a long history of boyfriends. Just a matter of months ago Shana was dating Dom--she, being underage, and he, being six years older--and in the aftermath of his discovery of her age and their consequent breakup, boys have flitted in and out of her life. She thought she had found "The One" with Dom and no matter how hard she tries to move on, her heart won't let her.
On a mission to capture the perfect photograph, though, Shana bumps into Quattro, an attractive guy who--like her string of past boyfriends--is absolutely into her. Before the two can further their relationship past acquaintances, however, Shana's father--a bed bug exterminator--is diagnosed with blindness. In a matter of months he will lose his eyesight and the photography career he gave up to continue the family business, the traveling dreams he and his wife forsake to raise three children--all these come into the forefront of his existence.
Surprisingly enough, it takes only a matter of chapters to cover this--unusual for Chen whose North of Beautiful took nearly half the novel to truly get rolling--but the bulk of A Blind Spot for Boys takes place on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu where Shana, once again, bumps into Quattro. I appreciated how thoroughly this novel balanced both familial and romantic relationships. While we are given glimpses into the tight circle of friends Shana maintains, the focus is solely on the disease tearing apart her family and new relationship struggles tearing apart her heart.
Frankly, I didn't feel entirely connected with the story line of A Blind Spot for Boys. I'm not sure why. Chen does a superb job of creating an intriguing plot line following Shana and her family on the Inca Trail as the people they meet and experiences they undergo manage to change their lives and shape their perspective on the world. Yet, perhaps it felt too neat and predictable. It's nearly a prerequisite to writing a tale with travel within it that new sights and sounds will drastically alter your life--as it has done for Shana and the members aboard their expedition to Machu Pichu. Thus, perhaps the ultimate revelations felt predictable more than revealing?
Yet, that being said, I completely admire the pacing of Shana's growth as she gradually gains the maturity to look beyond her idealized version of her relationship with Dom and acknowledge that she's better off without him; that, in reality, she escaped an abusive relationship. In realizing that, Shana begins to put other instances in her life into perspective as well--her friendship with her brother, Max, who knew Dom; her relationships with her close girl friends from whom she had kept Dom a secret; and even her own Boy Ban that keeps her at a distance from Quattro and those like him.
While A Blind Spot for Boys excels in Shana's personal agency, pushing her forward, and subtly touches upon the delicate balance of marriage as we look into the lives of Shana's parents, the romance is both a highlight and a downfall. Quattro's hot/cold attitude toward Shana is frustrating, though his understanding of her is swoon-worthy. His back story is compelling but the amount of time it takes to finally come to light is disappointing. It's a mixed bag, as is this novel, but perhaps in the hands of the right reader--one who is more in touch with Shana than I am--I don't doubt it can be an incredible experience.
A Blind Spot for Boys hasn't made me any more inclined to go through Chen's backlog but I certainly don't regret picking it up. I relish the lack of slut-shaming within its pages, the honesty with which Chen writes relationships of every nature and every age group, and the pace at which she chronicles the growth of her characters. Granted, it isn't perfect--and hasn't made my heart palpitate wildly--but it's a solid, strong contemporary read. No doubt about it.