Friday, December 02, 2016

She Is Not Invisible

She Is Not Invisible
Written By: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Ages: Young Adult

If a Man looks sharply and attentively, he shall see Fortune: for though she be blind, yet she is not invisible."
Taking its title from that Francis Bacon quote , She Is Not Invisible is a gripping tale – part mystery, part philosophical  contemplation of the nature of coincidence. But most of all, it is the story of a blind girl who sets out on an impossible quest, despite the alarming odds stacked against her.

Sixteen year old Laureth Peak's  father has always taught her to look for patterns - in numbers, words, recurring events. A famous writer in the midst of personal and professional crises, he goes missing while  on a research trip in Europe. Then, Laureth receives an email from a stranger who claims to have found her father’s notebook in new York City. Fearing for her father’s life, Laureth impetuously decides to travel from their home in England to New York,  to find her father and bring him home. She takes her seven year oldbrother along because – drum roll, please – she is blind.

What follows is a series of adventures as Laureth and her brother steal their  mother's credit card, then trick several airline officials and the odd passenger, before making their way successfully across the pond. With her brother acting as her eyes, they  successfully find both the notebook and the hotel their father was last living in. But the mystery gets ever darker –  the notebook is filled with increasingly incoherent ramblings about coincidence, the universe and the meaning of it all, and thoughts of suicide. Meanwhile, danger lurks in the form of sinister men who have begun shadowing the two children.

I had my share of issues with the plot – could a blind teenager with a child in tow really cross continents and negotiate alien cities that effortlessly – and was left incredulous by the denouement. Laureth’s dad, when we finally meet him, is disappointing, as is the reason for his mysterious disappearance. I was also left a little puzzled – the long, philosophical passages from the notebook that intersperse the narrative seem to suggest a message of some kind, but what exactly? There is also a hidden message in the book, an added incentive to work through the sometimes bewildering story.

 Where the book undoubtedly succeeds is in its description of the world from a blind person’s perspective. Narrated as it is in the first person, the book describes Laureth’s perception of the world through sound, touch and feel so skillfully that it is not at once apparent that she is blind.  It is only when you read of the way she navigates , or notice the visual cues she misses - facial expressions, signs, the offer of a handshake, skin colour - that you can even begin to comprehend how different her life must be

Laureth was, for me, the best thing about the book (with her wonderful little brother coming in at a close second). She is constantly trying to push against the limits her disability sets her, even as she struggles with self doubt.  People think I have so much faith in myself,” she says, at one point.” But I have none. I have no faith in myself, or in what I can do, and yet people think I can do anything I want. She is also a typical teenager – suffering attraction and heartbreak, resenting her mother’s efforts to make her independent, bristling at any suggestion that she might need help with something. 

An unusual and compelling story with strong protagonists, and an insight into the way the visually challenged perceive the world.

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