The Fifth Sense by Erik Nickerson
The Fifth Sense by Erik Nickerson is the story of a girl raised in a society that believes the eyes are vestigial organs that only confuse people, yet Apple Peterson is curious. When she opens her eyes, she sets in motion an unimaginable chain of events that will change her view of the world in more ways than one.
Nickerson explores how society would develop without eyes. The best part about The Fifth Sense is the world and the concept of people so oppressed they don’t even believe in humans’ primary sense. Their whole society is built for and by blind people. Braille directions are molded into the sidewalk. Voices are trained to be beautiful, persuasive, and musical, and sound has been weaponized.
The main character, Apple, sneaks peeks with her eyes, but is unable to communicate what she witnesses like we do. Her society doesn’t have words like “look” or “see,” so she attempts to describe sight with sound terminology like “eye notes.” It is impressive how Nickerson pulls off this thought process.
The oppressive society of The Fifth Sense reminds me of places like North Korea. If you can 100% control information, you can even make people believe their eyes don’t work. One scene takes place in a hospital and does an especially good job of demonstrating the control of the nation’s leaders. In that scene, someone is interviewed without consent and the consequences of not falling in line are clear.
While I loved its world and descriptions, the story itself had some believability issues. Even though I loved the concept, I also didn’t buy it: every kid would try to look at some point and realize their eyes did in fact work.
Another believability issue was the main character. Apple is fifteen, but she thinks and acts more like a twelve-year-old. So, when she manages to escape a couple of difficult situations, it makes the people chasing her seem incompetent, instead of showing her strength. While this story is not a romance, Apple does have a sort of love interest. This reads more like her first time ever experiencing a crush, rather than the heady love of a teen. Apple also plays a schoolyard game no teenager would be caught dead playing when not forced to in P.E, and her emotions aren’t as complicated as a teen’s. To me, this makes The Fifth Sense not really a young adult novel; without a true teenage perspective, it reads more like a middle grade story or one that just happens to have a teen protagonist, not a YA category book.
This novel does not have any intimate moments or graphic violence. However, the oppression does become fairly brutal with work camps at one point.
If you like interesting worlds or the concept of a society without sight, you will enjoy The Fifth Sense. If you’re looking for a true young adult story with teenage thought processes and emotions, this isn’t the book for you.