Parker lost her sight in a car accident that killed her mother when she was young. Since then, her father was her everything. They had a close-knit relationship, and he was her best friend. But three months before the novel takes place, Parker’s dad died of an overdose on anti-depressants. She had no idea he was even on them. Now living in her dad’s house with her aunt and her aunt’s family, Parker hasn’t cried ever since the day he died. Not even once. And Parker shrouds herself in a thick armor. She doesn’t need vision to see through your bullshit; she has a list of rules that you cannot break. Fool her once, and you won’t get a second chance. She’s created a balance for herself, but that balance is thrown off kilter when Scott Kilpatrick – her bestfriend turned boyfriend when she was thirteen – shows up at her high school.
Not If I See You First is shelved under romance on Goodreads, but that’s a straight-up lie. This is not a romance book. It is a book about one girl’s struggle with her unwillingness to feel grief, her life after the demise of her parents, her struggles with letting people in without treating them like crap. This is a story about Parker’s growth, her development from a closed-off, bitter young woman to who she is at the end of the novel. Romance plays a role, but this is not a book with a romance between Parker and Scott, or Parker and some other love interest. It’s a ‘romance’ between Parker and her girl friendships, between Parker and her new family, between Parker and herself. Don’t go into this expecting a romance, because you won’t get it.
And in many ways, that’s the strongest feat of the novel. Lindstrom seems to have a set plan in mind from the get-go. Parker is the main character, and the rest is background noise. Anything not revolving around our protagonist is given little to no thought, and usually that’s a bother for someone like me who prefers ‘wholesome’ contemporaries, but not this one (not that this book isn’t wholesome because it really is). Because Parker’s strength as a character is such a powerful force that you begin to see everything through her eyes. You feel her anger, her frustration, the private moments of grief that she allows herself to feel. She feels like an actual person, and when you turn the last page, you feel a sense of loss because you got to know her. You got to be with her, and despite her severe flaws, despite her vices, you grow to love Parker. Like a sister, like a friend, like someone you can look up to.
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t wary in the beginning of the book. Parker’s such a sarcastic, sharp-tongued, quippy, bitter person that you ask yourself, “Do I want to read a book where the main character, who is blind, is so bitter?” I was under the misconception that Parker was so closed-off because she’d lost her sight, but as the novel progresses, as things begin to unfold and fall into place, it becomes apparent that this was never a book about Parker being blind or her struggles. She does struggle, but she also doesn’t let her disability dictate what she can do. She’s a runner, she’s a good student, she’s completely independent. And this is something a lot of authors can learn from – Lindstrom doesn’t share Parker’s disability, so a story about her disability and her struggles is not a story for him to write. (Here’s a review written by a person who is blind.) But he can write about grief. Parker’s short-temper and frustration is a by-product of her forbidding herself to feel, because she believes that to feel is to be weak. This story is about grief and loss, and most of all, friendship.
It’s unfortunate that so few YA books that I’ve read emphasize the importance of friendship. They usually go something like – boy meets girl, one of them is going through crap, they fall in love and learn to cope. Which is fine, but how about friendship? This novel puts friendship to the forefront. Parker would never learn from her mistakes if she didn’t let her friends in. She would completely break down in her home environment if she didn’t start communicating with her aunt and cousin. Even with regards to Scott, most of the book looks at him through the lens of best friend rather than ex-boyfriend. He understood Parker, he helped her without ever making her realize that she was being helped, and she misses him because he was her best friend, not because they share some great kisses. Friendship. Parker and friendship – that’s what this book is about.
But despite all my praise, this isn’t a perfect book by any means. Because romance felt like such an insignificant part of the story, I wasn’t fully invested in the other love interest introduced. I would have loved more closure with regards to Parker’s home life, because despite being the most interesting aspect of the narrative for me, it was largely skimmed over – some parts left abandoned – at the end. But despite these minor issues, Not If I See You First is an incredible, beautifully written story that I won’t forget for a long, long time.