She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: Young adult contemporary
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release date: April 22 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: A completely original story with a brave and plucky main character, filled with fascinating information about the nature of coincidence, and lots of heart and emotion to tie it all together.
I held Benjamin until he stopped sobbing, and I told myself I wasn’t alone. We weren’t alone. I told myself that again and again.
I had Benjamin with me, and Stan. We’d find Dad. We had to.
“I’m scared, Laureth,” Benjamin said. “I’m scared. I want Mum. Aren’t you scared?”
And then, that was it, I was crying, too.
Because, yes, I was. I am scared, almost all the time. But I never tell anyone. I can’t afford to. I have to go on pretending I’m this confident person, because if I don’t, if I’m quiet, I become invisible.
This was my first Marcus Sedgwick book. I’ve been trying to get to Midwinterblood for, well, forever, and it wasn’t until I received She Is Not Invisible from NetGalley that I finally put Sedgwick on my reading schedule. The book wasn’t quite what I expected in some ways, but in others I was thoroughly delighted. Laureth is indeed a wonderful character. She’s blind, for one thing, but because she was born that way, she’s never had sight and never feels as if she’s missing anything. This fact allows her to have an upbeat attitude, which gets her through some very tricky situations in this story. I thought the book was a near perfect balance of mystery, family drama, adventure tale, and educational piece about coincidences. I say “near perfect” because I was a little disappointed in the final reveal of the mystery (why Laureth’s Dad was missing), and some of the action scenes at the end felt out-of-place to me. But overall I enjoyed this book so much, and now that I have seen Sedgwick in action writing contemporary, I can’t wait to experience his horror stories.
Sixteen-year-old Laureth is worried. Her father, a once-famous writer named Jack Peak who is away from home on a business trip, has not returned any of her phone calls. And when she reads an odd and threatening email to her father from a man who claims to have found one of his private notebooks—in New York City, no less—Laureth decides to take action. She drags her brother along on a madcap adventure from their home in England to America, to meet the man with the notebook and hopefully locate their father. But finding him isn’t as easy as she thought it would be, and Laureth is going to need all her wits to figure out the clues that keep leading her closer and closer to the truth.
Yes, Laureth is blind.
One would assume Sedgwick isn’t blind himself—although I guess one should never assume—but “seeing” the world through Laureth’s first person narrative was a completely immersive experience. Since she’s blind, she pays particular attention to sounds and smells, and those things tell her almost everything she needs to know about the world around her. Sedgwick made the city streets of New York come alive, and never once did he describe how something looked (unless it was Benjamin doing the talking). At times as I was reading, I could almost imagine being blind myself, so clearly did he explain how Laureth can estimate distances by listening to the way sound bounces off the objects around her. Laureth tries so hard to blend in and appear as if she can see, and I loved the poignant moments when the strangers she interacts with discover she’s blind, and react poorly to her blindness.
But Benjamin is her eyes.
And Benjamin, be still my heart! I loved that boy. Benjamin is only seven, but he trustingly goes along with Laureth’s scheme to steal her mum’s credit card and fly to another country without any parental supervision or permission. I loved his stuffed raven Stan, his constant companion and security blanket. The way Laureth and Benjamin interacted was refreshingly upbeat, and even though Laureth isn’t completely honest about the reason for their trip, you can tell Benjamin loves his sister and will do (almost) anything for her.
I learned some fascinating facts about some famous coincidences.
One of my favorite parts of the story was when Laureth gets the notebook back and Benjamin starts reading it to her. In its pages they discover that their father has become obsessed with coincidence and synchronicity, and he gives some true life examples of coincidences in history, in particular one famous example that involves Edgar Allen Poe and Richard Parker. I had one of those “ah ha!” moments when I remembered that the name “Richard Parker” was the name of the tiger in Yan Martel’s Life of Pi, and that Martel had also cunningly used the eerie story of Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket in his book. (Click on that link above, it’s worth the read!) There’s almost nothing I love better than when an author can take a riveting fact like that and seamlessly make it part of his story. And look for the number 354 in She Is Not Invisible. It pops up again and again…
But, then the story went off-track a bit.
Unfortunately, the book took a downturn for me near the end, when Laureth and Benjamin get mixed up in Jack Peak’s disappearance. It felt as if Sedgwick was trying to throw in a dangerous element to add more action to the plot, but to me it came across as cartoonish and over-the-top. But there are so many other little details about this story that I loved: the ongoing reference to Jack’s “funny books,” the “Benjamin effect” (OMG! I wish I could tell you what that is, but you need to read the book and find out for yourself), and a very sweet ending that ties up all the dangling emotional threads. Mostly I loved Laureth’s voice and her fierce love for her family, a love that sets her on an extraordinary path.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ from the final version of the book.
You can find She Is Not Invisible here: