Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In If You Could See What I Hear, Tom Sullivan highlights the first twenty-six years of his life. He explains his blindness shortly after his birth, his father’s relentless and vain trips to ophthalmologists from Boston to New York City, and his eventual placement in the Perkins Institute for the Blind when he turned six. His mother was certain that her main task was to protect Sullivan from the perils and challenges of the sighted world; his father was determined that Sullivan would function comfortably in that world. This polarity helped to undermine his family relationship.

Sullivan did not know what blindness was, because he did not know the meaning of light. His first four years were the emptiest and unhappiest, as he was sequestered in the family’s fenced-in backyard. Yet, if he spun his swing so that it unraveled at a high rate of speed, then he could sense things around him. A rare gift indeed, this “facial vision”—similar to the radar that bats and porpoises use—told him the distance and dimensions of an object through its reflection of sound waves off his face. In addition, his father gave him a radio, enabling Sullivan to develop his imagination.

Sullivan’s mother taught him common courtesies, such as facing people squarely when talking with them, and table manners. She also helped him to learn the names of flowers according to touch and fragrances. Through her, he found interests outside himself; sitting...

(The entire section is 486 words.)