When you hear that someone is “having trouble adjusting to blindness,” you may be tempted to think that they need to accept the “fact” that they simply cannot do a laundry list of essential human activities. Can you set that aside for a time and consider this? Perhaps they need to learn that the sighted people around them don’t have the answers and in many cases may be holding them back.
The book cover of Outside Myself by Kristen Wytucki shows profiles of the dual protagonists on a background of warm tan, slightly wrinkled parchment . Both facing in the same direction, Tallie’s is nested inside Benjamin’s. Benjamin’s profile is slightly lighter than the background, and Tallie’s is a little lighter still. The profiles cast a shadow, as if someone cut each out of paper and laid them on the cover. The title is in black text. It also appears in Braille in the same color as the shadows: photo courtesy Kristen Witucki.
Superbly written, Outside Myself by Kristen Witucki gets to the heart of the human experience. Blended and broken families struggle with issues that tear parents and children apart. Trying to do their best, they are fettered by incomplete and often false information. At the center of it all, two very different blind characters, determined to create their own place in the world, grapple with the negativity in their families, communities and themselves.
Witucki gives the reader a candid look at a blind person who wonders why so many people want her to be sighted. Whether through medical advances or faith healing, their actions tell her that they can’t accept her as she is. She also shows us a person, who should know what being ostracized and bullied means, grappling with insensitivity to others. This happens in the midst of the joys and frustrations of everyday life.
This beautiful and honest story of a mentor relationship reaches into several worlds to expose the deepest pain and the greatest triumphs of the human spirit. It is told by two narrators, Tallie and Benjamin. Their names appear at the beginnings of their chapters along with the date and subject. They represent different age-groups, genders, races, belief systems and causes of blindness. They grew up in different eras with different rights under the law.
Most blind people lose their vision as adults. Yes, most blind people used to be able to see. This fact alone should compel everyone to learn about living in a sighted world without sight. Still, misconceptions and stereotypes persist. Blindness is insurmountable. Blind people can’t do this, that or the other thing. Independence, a fulfilling career and even love are all too often considered simply out of reach. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Outside Myself is recommended for senior high and older readers. Learning about the struggles and triumphs of life without sight within the pages of a gripping novel is a great place to start. It’s sorely needed, especially for young people still forming their world views. Rehab counsellors will tell you that the biggest obstacles their newly blinded clients face are their misconceptions about blindness – Misconceptions they gathered while living in the sighted world.
Writing a novel that provides an authentic overview of blindness, however, is a monumental task. Adults or children, male or female, genius or intellectually challenged, rich or poor, blindness is a part of the human experience. It’s not even possible to predict with any degree of certainty what any one blind person can or cannot see.
So, how did Witucki do it? She hit one out of the ballpark. Her experiences have placed her in an ideal position to tell this story. Born totally blind, she earned three master’s degrees in teaching gifted students, the creative writing of fiction and teaching students with visual impairments. Witucki is a wife and mother of three. She is also Curriculum and Content Editor, Blindness and Visual Impairment at Learning Ally, the world’s largest library of volunteer-narrated books.
The novel comes right out of her daily life. Tallie, a young and precocious blind girl, and Benjamin, a withdrawn grandfather who works at a library for the blind, meet on the phone. Witucki interweaves the two “points of view” with an uncommon agility. Her ability to blend action, dreams and memory allows their stories to unfold smoothly, drawing the reader into their separate worlds, even as she brings them closer together.
Music, literature, and the love of learning are lifelines throughout the book. You will encounter a commentary on Heidi, Swiss author Johanna Spyri’s classic children’s novel, that has probably never crossed your mind. Tallie’s concern for dry leaves and Benjamin’s relationship with the moon provide glimpses into their inner lives.
Outside Myself is set primarily in New Jersey, with a train ride to Raleigh and a skiing trip to Vermont. The Ski for Light event, where Tallie learns to cross-country ski, is real. I’ve attended it twice. It is accurately portrayed. All in all, an inspiring read, carefully constructed with clear, concise language, nuanced characters and unexpected twists. There’s so much in this book that I couldn’t resist a second read.
Purchase Outside Myself in Print, EBook & Audio Formats
Outside Myself is Kristen Witucki’s first full length novel. Purchase it and The Transcriber, a story for
adolescent emerging readers, and follow Kristen at: https://www.amazon.com/Kristen-Witucki/e/B00BCQVL4K%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Audible has Outside Myself Narrated by Stephanie Keefer and Royal Jaye. Listen to a Sample at: https://www.audible.com/pd/Outside-Myself-Audiobook/B07CY6KGFQ
Options for readers with print impairments
Outside Myself is available through the National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the Library of Congress. Both novels are also available through Learning Ally.