With a Wink and a Squint

It isn’t very often that you come across middle grade fiction that deals with eye problems other than blindness. I would think that it is even less often to find a book with eye problems where the main character also draws comics. Interestingly, both Wink by Rob Harrell and Squint by Chad Morris to just that. The fact that I read them only about a month apart makes the connection that much stronger. I hope that not a lot of people are suffering from the eye conditions that Ross and Flint are, but these are great books about being yourself, bullying, and the power of friendship.

Wink is a marvelous book. While on the surface it is about a boy going through cancer treatments, as the cover says, it is about “surviving middle school with one eye open.” I don’t always agree when books get extreme love from the book community, but the praise is definitely due on this one.

The story focuses on 12 year old Ross Maloy, who just wants to be a normal kid. He is used to being invisible and kind of likes it that way. While he has been able to stay under the radar, this year is going to be different. Ross has been diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, has to go through radiation treatments, has to wear a hat at all times due to the radiation, loses his hair, and has to put goop on his eye all the time. Not exactly the way anyone wants to go through middle school. He has always had 2 super close friends, but one disappears after the diagnosis. Then to add insult to injury, someone starts making memes about him. No one can fault this kid when he just feels like the world is falling down around him. Fortunately, life isn’t all bad. While all of the negative things are happening, Ross is also discovering a love of music and making new friends.

Wink is definitely a book worth picking up. Kids in middle school and late elementary will enjoy the writing and the story will likely resonate with them on some level. The other really great thing about this book is that Ross’s comic, Bat Pig, is in between a number of the chapters. They help round out Ross’s character and bring another insight into what he is going through with the bullying.

Squint is also a fabulous book, and one that has been on my radar for a while, it just took a while to make it to the top of the list. Flint is a comic book artist who is slowly going blind. He loves writing and drawing a comic book story that stars his alter ego, Squint, who stands up to the bullies at school. The fact that he is named Squint is one way that Flint tries to take back the power of that name, as it is what the school bullies call him. When the new girl, McKell, starts spending time with him, he thinks that it must be a major prank in the making. As it turns out, like him, she has talents that she keeps hidden for fear of being bullied. She is pretty enough to be part of the “in” crowd, but only by not truly being herself. McKell is going through trauma of her own, but one that no one knows about. She is trying to become a better person, following challenges that her brother poses, but she only started doing the challenges when he started to get really sick.

Squint is reminiscent of Star Girl and Wonder. The characters need to go on a journey of self-discovery to realize that they are wonderful just the way they are. Flint believes that he is the only one who doubts himself and feels trapped by the “in” crowd and their taunts. But through McKell he realizes that, not only is that not the case, but that allowing people to see the real you makes for much stronger relationships.

Both Wink and Squint are fabulous books. It was surprising to have their themes be so similar, but each story was completely unique with characters that had depth. Many were characters that you would want to be friends with. Highly recommended!

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