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Farsighted by Emlyn Chand
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There was a country French cafe I passed almost everyday to get to my apartment fourteen years ago. It was called La Madeleine and it had the most amazing tomato basil soup. The smell of basil wafted elegantly above my spoon, enticing me to take that first savory sip. I also couldn’t order the soup without a small Caesar salad; the croutons were crusted in Parmesan cheese and melted in your mouth. I probably ate there once a week. The very thought of it made my stomach warm and my mouth water.

Until, I got pregnant for the first time.

I ate my usual dietary delight with wild abandon, satisfying my weekly obsession despite my bouts with first trimester nausea. Shortly after finishing my meal, I found myself doubled over a porcelain throne violently emptying every last drop of soup from my system. The bathroom smelled of rancid tomatoes and wilted basil for days. It was so traumatic that I couldn’t even drive past the restaurant without dry-heaving, forcing me to find an alternative route. Now, almost fourteen years later, I still have not stepped foot in that restaurant again, nor have I eaten tomato basil soup. The smell still sends me clutching my stomach, battling phantom cramps and hearing an echo of retching.

It’s amazing how our senses can be manipulated and marked for the rest of our lives, triggering responses at random.

In Emlyn Chand’s debut novel, Farsighted, Alex Kosmitoras has to rely on four of his senses to maneuver through life. He is a blind high school student struggling to fit in with his peers. Like most teenagers, he is tormented by a love/hate relationship with his parents. He feels sheltered by their efforts to keep him safe while he tries to gain some independence. Alex also harbors feelings of bitterness towards them.

“As usual, she (his mother) steers directly into the pothole we don’t have the money to repair. Sometimes I wonder if she does it on purpose.”

Alone, and detached from his classmates for years, Alex has almost given up hope of making friends and being accepted until Simmi, a new student from India, befriends him. She is intelligent, insightful, and kind. She appeals strongly to two of Alex’s senses: hearing and smell. Her thick Indian accent draws him in when she speaks, setting her apart from the other voices at school. Alex is also intoxicated by her sweet chocolate and almond scent.

Just when Alex thinks he has found his best friend, and possible teen romance, we are introduced to yet another new student, Shapri. She and her mother, Miss Teak, stir up this small town by opening a psychic shop next door to Alex’s family business. Shapri’s quirky and independent New Orleans personality is bigger than Alex is able to handle, causing him to become resentful when Simmi and Shapri become thicker than thieves.

While Alex tries to juggle these new found friendships, avoid the school bully, and stay under his parents’ radar, he suddenly finds himself afflicted with random sensory episodes. His senses are transported to another time and place, almost like a vision, momentarily paralyzing him in a trance. With each episode, his body responds as if he is physically present in the vision, revealing a deadly mystery.

“The air becomes lighter all of a sudden, as if a vacuum cleaner has sucked up all the humidity. The fragrance of sweat and Axe deodorant spray fills my nostrils. I’m totally confused now.”

Farsighted is a Young Adult (YA) sci-fi drama that combines elements of teen romance, mystery and paranormal into a well-developed thriller. The underlying theme is about friendship and coming of age. The main characters must rely on each other, while accepting their own strengths or weaknesses, in order to prevent something horrible from happening. The biggest obstacle they must face together is learning to trust one another and accepting that sometimes things aren’t always as they seem.

Of the main characters, my favorite was Shapri. She demanded respect from her peers and held tight to her convictions. She was not easily swayed or manipulated and managed to maintain her beliefs in spite of the many negative influences in her life. I also liked the fact that she was flawed, struggling to accept some of her paranormal gifts, like many of us struggle with accepting our own abilities at times. It is refreshing to see strong, independent young women in YA fiction that do not need to be rescued.

However, the character that I could relate to the most was Shapri’s mother, Miss Teak. Perhaps it is because I am a mother of a teenager myself, but her calming spirit was a nice change of pace from the other characters’ hormone charged presence.

“All of a sudden, the background of the busy street is gone, replaced by the stillness of Miss Teak’s shop. The scent of sandalwood incense drifts by.”

She is the voice of reason, although she is far from being “all knowing”. Her life experiences and innate ability to reason through any problem make her an anchor, keeping this small band of teenagers from drifting away too far. She constantly gives helpful, albeit dark and mysterious, nuggets of advice:

“The potential for good and evil lies within all things. Nothing is fully dark or fully light. All have elements of both sides.”

Besides the main story-line, I also liked all of the personal details, even about the peripheral characters. Emlyn was able to make even the most minor characters three-dimensional by giving them their own quirks. For instance, Alex’s mother is a little bit obsessive compulsive.

“How was your first day?” Mom asks as she washes her hands, counting faintly under her breath to ensure the she lathers for exactly thirty seconds.

These added details were the best way for the reader to “see” through Alex’s eyes. Since we could not picture his environment, Emlyn Chand made sure that we could hear, feel, smell and even taste the story as it unfolded. Much like the way my body responded to driving by that French restaurant even years later, I was able to rely on my sensory experiences to visualize Farsighted.

Also, as a parent, it was nice to see positive lessons. This book was definitely appropriate for the age group that it was written for, readers like my teen-aged daughter. I also appreciated that the parents were not only present and involved in the story-line, but they were not portrayed as ignorant or stupid.

“Dad was more important to my life than I realized. As mush as I hated him for destroying everything, I can’t help but miss him.”

I would recommend this book to teens as well as adults. As an adult reading a YA fiction, it was a pleasant surprise to find so many “a-ha” moments for myself. Sometimes we get distracted by what is right in front of us, a sort of nearsighted perspective, and need to be shown a greater vision. I definitely found this to be true when Alex was talking about watching the ball drop in Times Square with his mother and could relate it to life in general. It was a nice reminder that life is not just about the destination, but about the journey too.

“The great thing about the ball drop isn’t the ball itself – from what I understand, the visual end is pretty lame. I get excited by the countdown. 10,9,8… Everyone screaming the number at the top of their lungs, eager to bring in the New Year, channeling all of that enthusiasm into counting. They truly believe this year will change their lives for the better.”
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Reading Progress

September 1, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
November 5, 2011 – Finished Reading

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