Going on 16, Hailey has "the eyes of a ninety-six-year-old" due to macular degeneration.
Encouraged by her adoptive moms, Hailey keeps a list of fears and increasingly risky behaviors to conquer before her sight disappears. When her band, Blinders On, plays for the school radio station, she meets Kyle. Traumatized by bullying and berated by his mentally ill single mother, Kyle battles his own anxiety. Both teens are white. Their alternating narration forms a believably messy picture of hormonally charged friendship as they cross off their worst fears. Unfortunately, the plot's long list of teen issues courts stereotypes and gives short shrift to poignant incidents and likable secondary characters. The kids’ awareness of these stereotypes only highlights them; for instance, when Hailey feels Kyle's face so she'll "know how to see people when [she's] blind," Kyle thinks, "I'd seen that in movies, but people really did that?" (Generally, they don't, which is acknowledged in the text, but Hailey still does it.) Two characters' disparate reactions to a shared trauma sympathetically raise questions of survivor guilt and denial, but one character quotes platitudes so relentlessly that, lacking further development, he risks being reduced to a plucky sidekick. While teens have complicated lives that don't necessarily unfold in order of importance, such nuanced subjects as post-traumatic stress don't deserve to be foils for the sake of a romance.
Readers wanting more balanced portrayals of troubled characters should try Ron Koertge's Stoner and Spaz (2001) or Corey Ann Haydu's OCD Love Story (2013). (Romance. 14-18)