Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville. For the first time in her life, Alice feels different—like she’s at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time. This is a stirring small-town story that explores many different issues—albinism, blindness, depression, dyslexia, growing old, and more—with a light touch and lots of heart. Beth Vrabel’s characters are complicated and messy, but they come together in a story about the strength of community and friendship.
A Blind Guide to Stinkville
This book has a lot packed into it. A lawsuit, dog health problems AND a mental health breakdown for the mother? That's a lot to address in one book, although the length is still very manageable. While kids will find the issues of moving and blindness to be intriguing, I think that few of them really want to read about the depression of a parent.
It isn’t until Alice’s mom tells her that she’s going to go to a special school for the blind that Alice decides she needs to learn how to be independent (and not different). Entering the town’s "Sinkville Success Stories" contest feels like the perfect way to start. What begins as a way for Alice to learn the layout of her new home ends up being the perfect way for her to make new friends and find her own voice.
What I loved about this book was the way Beth Vrabel handled her diverse characters. While Alice is indeed the main character, there were so many wonderful side stories that Alice captured in her journey to discover Sinkville. People had their own voice, triumphs and struggles.
One of my favorite characters was Alice’s mom. She struggles with depression throughout the book, but rather than avoid talking about her mental illness, the entire family has many discussions about depression, how it manifests, and how it isn’t a quick fix. Their mom is honest about her struggle, and in turn, both Alice and her brother James are able to be honest and open about their anger and fear as they watch their mom battle depression. This is probably one of the healthiest books I’ve ever read when it comes to families talking about their feelings with one another. It was beautiful to witness.
Depression and Albinism are just a few of the things that stand out in this book; there is also a great scene that includes a discussion of Sinkville’s part in the Civil Rights movement. Alice’s best friend Kerica is able to express how she still feels the effect of looking different in a small town. The town comes together to remind everyone that Sinkville is proud of its history supporting all people and offering a safe place for everyone, no matter what they look like.
That’s the beautiful thing about this book: everyone feels like they are too different to have a “home.” By naming and discussing their feelings and struggles, Alice and her friends don’t feel so alone and they’re able to make Sinkville a little bit more like home they'd hoped for.
There were some points where the plot seemed to jump ahead and skip some important details, but the gaps were eventually filled in as the story went along. The humor in this book is nothing short of wonderful, and both Alice and Kerica have that preteen sensibility that makes this book shine.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has felt alone and different. Alice’s story is a powerful example that our differences can make us stronger and that friendships and family can grow into something unexpectedly beautiful.