When Alice and her family move to Sinkville, South Carolina, the town's nickname of Stinkville feels particularly apt.
In Seattle, everyone accepted 12-year-old Alice's albinism and blindness. Her best friend guided her through school, and her mother told her stories. In Stinkville, she doesn't know anyone, her brother won't guide her, and her mother's depression worsens. As if that weren't enough, her parents want her to attend the Addison School for the Blind. With trepidation and humor, Alice decides to "advocate for [herself]" and enter the Sinkville Success Stories essay contest. Her research leads her, white cane and (decidedly nonservice) dog in tow, to make friends with the townsfolk and peace with her visual impairment and family upheaval. Some subplots feel contrived, and some characters are stock—the kindly waitress who knows everyone's orders, the whittling old man, the bully who hides her own vulnerability—but their effect is cozy. Most commendable is Vrabel's focus on compromise and culture shock. Disorientation encompasses not only place and attitude, but also the rarely explored ambivalence of being disabled on a spectrum. Alice's insistence that she's "not that blind" rings true with both stubbornness and confusion as she avails herself of some tools while not needing others, in contrast to typically unambiguous portrayals.
Readers who worry about fitting in—wherever that may be—will relate to Alice's journey toward compromise and independence. (Fiction. 9-12)