100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons is the story of a young woman who becomes temporarily blind due to a car accident and the boy who tries to help her find her strength through this difficult time. Emmons is a booktuber and singer/songwriter, among other things. This is Emmons’ debut novel.
When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down.
Terrified that her vision might never return, Tessa feels like she has nothing left to be happy about. But when her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs.
Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability. And because she can’t see him, she treats him with contempt: screaming at him to get out of her house and never come back. But for Weston, it’s the most amazing feeling: to be treated like a normal person, not just a sob story. So he comes back. Again and again and again.
Tessa spurns Weston’s “obnoxious optimism”, convinced that he has no idea what she’s going through. But Weston knows exactly how she feels and reaches into her darkness to show her that there is more than one way to experience the world. As Tessa grows closer to Weston, she finds it harder and harder to imagine life without him — and Weston can’t imagine life without her. But he still hasn’t told her the truth, and when Tessa’s sight returns he’ll have to make the hardest decision of his life: vanish from Tessa’s world…or overcome his fear of being seen.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
First off, I want to start by saying I had no idea who Abbie Emmons was before I requested this book. I have since learned that she’s a really big BookTuber and has quite a large following. But when I started reading this book I didn’t know her at all. This review is a critique of her book, not Abbie herself. I still haven’t seen a single video of hers. All I know about her is what I’ve read from this book and her description in the back.
I don’t want this review to turn into a rant, but it’s probably going to get pretty close. I’m breaking from my traditional review format because this book has a lot for me to unpack to you guys. I’m going to start of just reacting to some quotes from the book then I’ll and sum up my feelings at the end. First off:
…because nobody would bring flowers to a blind girl. What’s the use of flowers if you can’t see them?Tessa Dickinson
Okay. I have a huge beef with Tessa’s view of blindness. I understand that it is difficult for someone who is originally able to see to suddenly go to blindness. And Tessa’s probably going through some stage of grief through the first half of this book. But sometimes she says some rude things that really rub me the wrong way. Like flowers being useless to those who can’t see. But that’s what smell is for! Flowers can still be appreciated by smelling!
And I get that Emmons is trying to use this as a way for Weston to “open Tessa’s eyes” (pun intended) to all the things she can still experience even though she’s blind, but I feel like this is a really insensitive way to go about doing it. It did not endear me to Tessa in the slightest. In fact, I went through most of this book disliking her and I can’t say that she changes my mind at any point in the book.
“Weston, I’m blind. There are some things that I just can’t do anymore.”Tessa Dickinson
Tessa says this in response to Weston’s suggestion that she write some things down in a notebook he got her. While I get that it’s difficult to write when you can’t see, it again feels like Emmons is being insensitive to blind people. I know that Tessa is still basically resistant to being blind, that it’s something she has to grapple with, but there are so many accessibility options out there for the seeing-impaired. This book doesn’t show any of them, other than Tessa using Siri to use her phone. I was extremely disappointed in the obvious lack of exploring how the blind community operates in daily life. If you’re going to have a representative character, then I think you should do more than use her blindness as a way to grow a romantic story. It’s just really not cool.
I could understand her hesitation – she was a girl and girls are more shaken and squeamish about stuff like this.Weston Ludovico
This is in response to one of Weston’s school friends visiting him in rehab after he loses his legs. I seriously did a double-take when I read this. Again, I can sort of understand Emmons using this in a way to present a typical “boy” view of girls, especially a 13-year-old boy. But come on! It’s so not necessary. Especially not if you want me, a girl, to like Weston at all. It’s not like Emmons takes the time to show 16-year-old Weston growing out of this view and being less sexist.
There’s so little character development that I have the hardest time separating 13-year-old Weston from 16-year-old Weston. They talk the same way and the say similar things. So it’s sad to see that Weston really hasn’t grown up at all. And I can’t get behind a character who says stuff like this.
They gave me a piece of paper with safety guidelines on it. I crunched it up and tossed it out the window on the drive home.Weston Ludovico
Another strike against Weston and a missed opportunity when it comes to disability representation. Weston loses both his legs, below the knee (due to his own stupidity, I don’t want to spoil it by saying how, but it really is his fault) due to recklessness on his part, and he only continues to be reckless by ignoring every piece of instruction or advice given to him about how to function now as an amputee. I feel like Emmons is again using this as a tool to create this “bad boy” persona, with Weston being a daredevil, fighting his best friend for fun (physically), and other things.
But this is just really dumb. I don’t know why Emmons didn’t want to take the time to show how people with disabilities function in day to day life – because physical therapy is no joke and Weston should not just ignore all the instructions and help from people who are trained to help him. It’s not like you can just go out and figure out the best way on your own. Weston is not a doctor and yet he thinks he knows what’s best for himself. I can understand wanting to take control of your own recovery, but do that along with a specialist, because it’s not like they don’t want what’s best for you or don’t want you to succeed. And it’s not like relying on a specialist somehow makes you weaker. That’s the huge takeaway that it feels like Weston (and by extension Emmons) is providing.
I spent most of this book wondering why Emmons is sending this message that you don’t need help, you don’t need to ask for help because somehow that means that you’re only being seen as your disability and not as a person. This is consistently reinforced throughout the novel.
I wanted to see my friends and my teachers and those stupid flights of stairs that I liked to trip on so much. I wanted to be normal. Even though I knew I never would be normal.Weston Ludovico
This is in response to Weston’s parents debating about sending him to a school specially for kids with disabilities and Weston doesn’t want to go. Which I understand. But his mindset of being an amputee means he’s not “normal” is prevalent throughout the book and even when he grows up, he still thinks this way. Which, I get it, that can be a certain mindset, but I think it’s a really insensitive message, since Emmons doesn’t counteract it anywhere in the book. What is normal? Why does Weston’s story have to be framed this way? He spends most of his time in the book pretending that he’s alright with his disability, but he actually isn’t.
I wish that this could then be the platform for showing how interacting with the disabled community can help change that mindset. But nowhere do we see Weston interacting with other disabled people, nor do we see any attempts to show how the disabled community operates, like depicting Weston going through physical therapy or even occupational therapy. He just goes straight back to his life and never looks back and does everything because he’s “determined.” Which I think sorely neglects how someone who becomes an amputee would reintegrate back into their routine life.
After some discussion, Mom and Dad agreed to the idea. And I got my first pair of running blades. They looked pretty awesome, too — well, as awesome as prosthetic limbs can look.Weston Ludovico
I have two problems with this. The first, is that I think it’s completely unrealistic that Weston’s parents can even afford to buy him running blades. I looked it up and running blades are anywhere between $15,000-18,000. And Weston’s mom doesn’t work and Weston’s dad runs a small town newspaper. And I seriously doubt insurance would cover a specialty prosthetic like this. It’s so unlikely and I feel like it shows Emmons didn’t do enough research into amputees and prostheses. It’s totally implausible and really only functions in this story to show Weston’s “determination” to be totally normal and because of his sheer force of will, he makes this stuff happen, like running track again. I’m not saying that he couldn’t eventually do this, but I think it’s really unrealistic to show him, the same year he lost his limbs, going back to running.
Secondly, The second sentence is a perfect example of how Emmons always has her characters undercut anything positive about being disabled. The running blades are cool, but only as cool as prosthetic limbs can be, as in “not cool at all.” Even if Weston holds this opinion, again, Emmons doesn’t spend any time in her book erasing this idea and showing that it actually is cool and that comparing everything to able-bodied things is really damaging.
To hell with that. I’d had my fill of being supervised by therapists while walking around a room in a dingy rehab center.Weston Ludovico
I just wanted to include this because it’s yet another example of how Emmons manages to downplay physical therapy. Even if she’s trying to develop Weston’s character here and have him view things in this way because of his character, there isn’t any time in the book where this is disproven, because therapy is incredibly important! The physical therapists, the occupational therapists, the cognitive therapists, they are all incredible people doing real good in this world, helping people with disabilities tackle the challenges of living in a world built for able-bodied people. It’s so unrealistic to show Weston’s complete disregard for therapists as if they’re only “supervising” and not actually helpful at all. It just really made me mad reading this. Case in point, Weston goes straight to using his running blades without any help whatsoever. I doubt this is realistic, and if it is someone please tell me, because otherwise I just don’t see him spontaneously knowing how to work with them without any guidance. This could have been the perfect opportunity to showcase how physical therapists help, but I guess Emmons just didn’t want to spend the time actually researching this or thought she was creating a “badass” character who doesn’t need no help from nobody.
“We’ll watch it,” Weston says, “when you get your vision back. It’s the kind of movie you have to see.”Weston Ludovico
This is in reference to them discussing their favorite movies and Weston brings up “The Princess Bride.” I think it’s, again, insensitive to say that blind people can’t enjoy “The Princess Bride” if they can’t see it. It’s an amazing movie and I think anyone can enjoy it. Besides, I think this is another missed opportunity to show how blind people watch movies. They could be talking about that or any of the myriad ways that blind people function in the world, but instead everything is put by the wayside so Weston can do stuff for Tessa because its a romance story. Everything is pushed aside or made non-existence for a relationship. Sigh.
“Yeah?” Rudy said, glancing up from his algebra notebook, which looked like a more OCD version of mine.”Weston Ludovico
I only point this out because I’ve read plenty of books now about how people with OCD cannot stand this perpetuation of misunderstood OCD symptoms. It’s a casual description that so many people use but grossly misrepresents what people with OCD actually experience, equating it to just being super organized. I want to point this out because it’s something that I used to do in the past, but now that I know that it’s damaging, I try to avoid using it, and I get really sad now when I see it elsewhere. It really sucks that it’s popping up in a book that’s supposed to be representing disabilities because people with mental disorders are really stigmatized. And this doesn’t help.
Now that he’s revealed he knows how to punch people, I feel especially safe with him.Tessa Dickinson
Sigh. Weston reveals to Tessa that he likes fighting people for fun. I find this a really strange response from her, because if I knew someone who likes punching people, I don’t think I’d feel safer with them, I’d feel weirded out by them and maybe a bit afraid of them. In my opinion, this is just more bad character development. Emmons is doing her best to portray Weston as a daredevil “bad boy” and make that somehow attractive. But to me it’s not very successful and really all it does is make me dislike Weston more, and dislike Tessa as well, because come on, girl! Warning signs!
He’s infuriating sometimes — but he also called me his girl.Tessa Dickinson
I wanted to talk about two roads — the desert and the mountain range — and how everyone has a road to choose. And how most people choose the wrong road.Weston Ludovico, age 13
Sigh. I don’t even know what this is. Weston’s supposed to give a speech in class. He ends up just speaking from the cuff. But I just don’t like how Weston gets like this, somehow thinking that everyone else is doing stuff wrong and he actually knows how to do everything right. And he’s 13. I just feel very cringy about this.
“Everyone’s always treating me like I need help–and, sometimes, it’s hard to resist giving in.”Weston Ludovico
Another instance of Emmons portraying help as a bad thing. Yes, Weston is 13 and has only recently become an amputee. But again, nowhere else in the book does older Weston retract this. So that message is just out there for the universe. We don’t see him ask for help or get help at any point in the novel.
Yet he “helps” Tessa because he somehow knows better than everyone just because he has a disability, even if that disability is completely different than what Tessa has. Sure, he can relate to her emotionally about going through losing something integral, but other than that, this book just seems to throw therapy and all other aides for disabled people out the window. All you need is “determination,” and “love” and everything will work out. Screw getting a helping hand from people who are specifically trained to do so. As if that means that you are automatically accepting that you are your disability. I just don’t agree.
I’m going to make myself smile even when I feel like crying. I’m going to stick to the mountain trail even when I feel like giving up. I’m going to reply to “How are you?” with “Never been better,” even when it isn’t true.Weston Ludovico
Siiiiiigh. Why, why, why, Abbie Emmons? Why are you focusing so much on a character who is crying out for some serious help and never give it to him? I know this is meant to be “inspirational” and showing how “tough” Weston is, but really. This is such an unhealthy image, to deny yourself sadness when it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry, that doesn’t make you a lesser person. It’s okay to admit that you’re not doing okay. Even if you are disabled. That doesn’t make you less of a person. In fact, it’s really expected because the world is hard on people who aren’t able-bodied. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I just don’t like that this message is never contradicted, is never shown to be wrong. Everything dies away so the romance can take root. I am so disappointed in this book.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Waffles
I might be too generous here giving it 2 and a half. But in the end, I think it’s an okay written book and the cover is pretty. There are problems I had with Emmon’s attempt at being poetic (Tessa writes a poetry blog) and she has Tessa use phrases like “intricately simple” and “I can smell the fragrance of midnight in the air.” Which okay, fine, but it comes off as trying too hard in my opinion.
I mostly have issues with the portrayal of people with disabilities, which is a huge aspect of this book. Tessa is blind (temporarily) and Weston is an amputee. Emmons’ portrayal of disabilities seems woefully unresearched and unrealistic. There is little effort to capture the process of physical therapy or any other type of aides for people who are blind or people who are learning how to walk again. And sometimes I found the language and messages portrayed in this book to be insensitive, even if it wasn’t on purpose. It makes me wonder if Emmons ran this through a sensitivity group. I know this is an “indie” publication (her words) and maybe she didn’t have that at her disposal, but you would think that she would have reached out to the blind community or to anyone who is an amputee to see if they could give her feedback. She’s online-savvy, so I think it wouldn’t be too difficult to find someone.
Other than that, I think the character development is poor, both Tessa and Weston are unlikeable, and there are a lot of unrealistic things going on, like constantly referring to the camera that Tessa and Weston use as a Polaroid when it’s a Instax Mini which is actually Fujifilm. There’s lots of unrealistic dialog, mostly in the form of not capturing authentic child dialogue (Weston has several younger brothers and he’s also 13 for a lot of the book).
I also feel like I have to say this: Weston creepily answering an ad in his dad’s newspaper for an assistant to a blind girl (after the ad has been retracted!!!) is not good. Especially since a female assistant is requested. It’s a bit stalkery that he looks up Tessa’s information and then finds her house and basically talks his way into helping her just because he things he can help her. Not a good start.
Lastly, I will say that even though this is told through two perspectives, Tessa and Weston, the majority of the book is actually about Weston, both his present age and flashbacks to when he first loses his legs. That’s fine, I guess, but Tessa feels really diminished because of this. Most of the book is actually spent in the past, and not Tessa’s past, so her character feels so much more underdeveloped than Weston’s.
I would not recommend this book. I’m really disappointed in it, because I was expecting a lot more and it really missed the mark for me. I mostly take issue with Emmons’ use of disability as a prop to create a meet-cute contemporary romance.
Perhaps it’ll be successful anyway, because I know Emmons has a lot of supporters, especially from her YouTube subscribers. I also find it a bit weird that she includes a message from herself at the end of the book stating, “I’m an indie author so I love and appreciate every reader who takes the time to give my book a good rating. ;)” First of all, okay that’s fine, you’re an indie writer. But I think it’s a bit questionable to ask for a “good rating.” I would hope that Emmons would want constructive feedback, and not just solicit positive reviews.