It is really hard to get Catholic fiction “right” for younger readers, especially for tweens and teens. That’s why it is so satisfying to finish a book like The Perfect Blindside by Leslea Wahl.
The Perfect Blindside is a fast-paced mystery/romance told through the lives of two teens in a small Colorado town— Jake, an Olympic medalist snowboarder who’s new in town, and Sophie, an honor student who’s judgmental and skeptical of Jake’s intentions. The book is an excellent novel, period, and it also happens to weave in Catholic themes. That’s a win.
“Mystery” is the primary focus of the novel, as the two teens, often at odds, improbably work together to find out what’s going on in a nearby abandoned silver mine. The romance is a subordinate, but lighthearted aspect.
At times, The Perfect Blindside reminded me of a Nancy Drew novels, which I adored as a young reader. What I loved was all the excitement of solving a mystery by yourself, or with the help of a few trusted same-age friends. When I began to introduce Nancy Drew to my children when they were young, I was momentarily horrified to see how much Nancy put herself and her friends in danger solving mysteries. But the situations she puts herself in are so improbable that it’s not really an active inspiration to younger readers. They just enjoy the stories and the excitement, as I did as a kid.
In the same way, the teens in The Perfect Blindside make over-adventerous decisions when it comes solving their mystery, but it’s so far “out there” that it wouldn’t inspire younger readers to be reckless in solving their own mysteries. Instead, it’s just a diverting and an entertaining plot device to move the story along.
A “blindside” in snowboarding is a trick that a boarder makes without being able to see the path, and this book improvises on that theme to explore how the teens try to make their way without being able to see the path ahead.
While the primary enjoyment of this book is in the mystery and the perilous situations, it is also present in the very natural progress of both teens’ spiritual and emotional development. Both Jake and Sophie learn where they’ve been wrong, where they can improve, and how to avoid rash judgment and rash decisions. Catholic life and faith is woven seamlessly throughout the book without seeming “preachy” or moralistic.
Leslea Wahl has written in an interview (here) that she “simply wanted to write good, moral, young adult novels full of adventure and excitement.” Consider that goal richly fulfilled in The Perfect Blindside.