Quill & Quire
Adult Canadians know how the story of Jeff Healey ends: the award-winning blues and jazz musician succumbed to cancer in 2008, at the age of 41. That Healey died too young goes without saying. But, as the delicately balanced narrative of Cindy Watson’s biography points out, this tragic passing could have occurred much, much earlier. Healey was blind for most of his life; the cause of his blindness, retinoblastoma, or eye cancer, was diagnosed when he was less than a year old. (His adoptive parents made the urgent, and technically illegal, decision to have his left eye removed.)
It’s almost unfortunate that Out of Darkness is aimed at teens, as it will also reward parents. It is a richly detailed overview of Healey’s life, assembled from interviews with friends and family. Though Watson’s breezy narrative voice makes for a quick, immersive read, there are times when the soft-touch editorializing goes a bit far – for example, implying that “the sun suddenly seem[ed] to shine brighter” on the day his adopted parents drove to Children’s Aid to meet Jeff for the first time. (The sunshine motif appears again in the book’s final pages, when it is mentioned that the sun was not out on the day Healey died.)
Perhaps the most significant challenge Watson faces is that her young audience is likely unaware that Healey even existed. She wisely, and fairly, turns his story into a triumph-over-adversity tale. Wisely, because children require positivity and, where applicable, reassurance. Fairly, because Healey’s story was, more than anything else, a triumph.
Out of Darkness is most successful when describing Healey's childhood and adolescence.
This introduction to the life and work of a legendary Canadian cannot but inspire the reader to reach outside the box to follow one's dreams. As a biography of a blind person, it inspires understanding, and this is a remarkable accomplishment in itself, especially since many potential readers will not have much first-hand experience with people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired.
[Out of Darkness] is a richly detailed overview of Healey's life.
Cindy Watson has pulled together an excellent and accessible book of [Jeff Healy's] life... This is a wonderful book. Watson brings Jeff Healy back to life for her readers. The reading level is easy and the style is smooth and thoughtful. Teens who are just picking up a guitar or have been playing for several years will find this book interesting and informative.
This book works on many levels especially the educational component, which offers interaction. Watson has done a great deal of research and asks the reader to think outside the box, like Healey did, and to take risks and not to give up on their dreams.
From the moment three-year-old Jeff Healey first laid a guitar across his lap in what was to become his signature style, it was clear he was no ordinary kid. Losing both eyes to retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer, opened a door to another world for Jeff, a newly adopted infant. Out of darkness he created music, becoming one of the most influential blues-rock and jazz performers of our time, beginning with his first hit album, See the Light.
In this up-close and personal account, loaded with never-before-seen photographs, memorabilia, and intimate recollections of family, friends, and fellow musicians, we discover this unique music icon's dynamic career, which saw him collaborate with everyone from George Harrison and Eric Clapton to B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. From Jeff's lonely start one snowy night at St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto to his untimely end in the same building, we come away with a potent message of empowerment and a renewed sense of hope.