Color Blind – Book Review
Title: color blind
Author: Sheila Sobel
Publisher: Merit Press, 2016
Themes: grief, loss, new orleans, vodoo, genealogy
ARC from publisher in exchange for an impartial review
There’s a whole lot of nothing on the way to New Orleans. I hadn’t seen any evidence of civilization since we left Montgomery. Too wired to sleep, too tired to read, I leaned back and gazed into the darkness that had become my life. What difference a week makes. Yesterday, I was an ordinary seventeen-year-old with a father who loved me. Last week, I had no thought of imminent threat to my existence. That was yesterday. Everything changed in a heartbeat. Literally. Not mine, but my father’s, the very last beat of his thirty-five-year-old heart. Who knew he had a heart condition? Not me, but then again I knew so little about my family history.
April is alone in the world. When she was only a baby, her teenage mother took off and now, unbelievably, her dad has died. Nobody’s left to take April in except her mom’s sister, a free spirit who’s a chef in New Orleans–and someone who April’s never met. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, April is suddenly supposed to navigate a city that feels just like she feels, fighting back from impossibly bad breaks. But it’s Miles, a bayou boy, who really brings April into the heart of the Big Easy. He takes her to the cemetery where nineteenth-century voodoo queen Marie Laveau is buried, and there, April gets a shocking clue about her own past. Once she has a piece of the puzzle, she knows she will never give up. What she doesn’t know is that finding out the truth about her past and the key to her future could cost her everything–maybe even her life. (Goodreads)
On the death of her young father with whom she lived, April is sent off to live with her aunt Kate, her mother’s estranged sister and a New Orleans chef. April and her aunt are at odds for most of the novel, as April works through her grief and her aunt continues to chew on old family frustrations as well as an upturned life with her niece’s arrival. April’s rudeness and recklessness felt authentic given the recent loss of her father, her mother’s continued absence and her aunt’s relatively neutral welcome. The grief processing makes up much of the inner reflections of the novel.
The story unravels slowly as we are introduced to: a young tour guide who becomes the love interest, a voodoo store owner, and a young black girl named Angel (and her dog) and her mother, Simone, who live in the still impoverished Ninth Ward.
April discovers that her New Orleans family is hiding a secret. In her attempt to unravel this and contact the spirit of her dead father through a local voodoo priestess, she sets of for a stormy island, with young Angel, a goat and a voodoo ceremony. This scene is dramatic and riddled with bad teen choices, which given her grief feel authentic, however the timing of this climax and the big reveal of the secret felt premature and the remainder of the book feels anti-climatic and a little repetitive. The secret is intriguing and a great twist by the author, though given the nature of the city and its fascinating voodoo history I was surprised this wasn’t developed further.
The French Quarter setting and the historical narrative, often shared by cute young tour guide, Miles, gives the city a persona of its own. The research felt very thorough and as a fan of Nawlins, I felt the author did a terrific job in world building evoking the sensory experience, which epitomizes this city. Also as a foodie, Kate’s cooking (her way of showing love as well as her profession) was also a highlight. In fact, Kate was the character I bonded with most. I appreciated the portrayal of her struggle to empathize with April, and her insistence on setting boundaries and consequences. I felt the complexity of her character was well developed.
Overall, this is a wonderful setting, intriguing plot but the pacing felt off for me.