Tuesday, April 8, 2014

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

"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. People treat me as if I'm not there. I remember being tine, about Benjamin's age, standing in the sweet shop, and the woman behind the counter asking Mum,...How do you manage with her? It must be very hard...
The woman kept on and on, and Mum didn't know what to say, and I just stood there, feeling more and more upset, and as she went on, I suddenly though it was as if she was the one who was blind, and couldn't see me, not the other way around."

This fascinating short novel opens with sixteen year old Laureth Peak and her seven year old brother, Benjamin flying from London to JFK in New York in search of their father. It is seven o'clock in the morning Saturday London time when they board the plane and the events in the book take place over the span of one day -Saturday in London and Saturday in New York City.

Laureth's father, Jack Peak, is a well known author, whose first five books were extremely popular. She checks her dad's fan mail that comes in via his website and responds using pre-written replies. One evening while checking his emails, she encounters one about the "Black Book" which is what her father calls his notebook. The email, from a Michael Walker, indicates that he has found Jack Peak's notebook. Michael's use of the currency dollar leads Laureth to suspect he is in America. Laureth responds as though she is her father and asks Michael to prove that he has the journal. He sends Laureth some scanned pages of the journal confirming it is her father's. After arranging how much reward he will receive they arrange to meet him at the Queen's Library in Long Island City.

The discovery of her father's journal in New York city is upsetting to Laureth because she understood her father was in Switzerland. When she questions her mother, she tells Laureth that she doesn't care that they haven't heard from her father and that he is the one who is responsible for whatever has happened. Instead Laureth's mother continues packing for an overnight visit to Aunt Sarah's in Manchester; a visit that will leave Laureth and Benjamin on their own for the day and one night. Laureth tries contacting her father but his phone just rings.

At this point Laureth decides that she is going to go in search of her father. She takes one of her mother's credit cards and purchases two tickets to New York. She and Benjamin wait until their mother leaves the next morning (Saturday) for Manchester and then unbelievably they manage to circumvent security and board a plane to New York.  It is during her travel to the airport, that we learn that Laureth is almost completely blind and that this is the reason she has "abducted" her younger brother, so he can be her eyes.

Several interesting things happen in the airport and on the trip over to America. First, it seems that Benjamin has the ability to crash electronics, an anecdotal effect (that is not scientifically verified) known as the Pauli effect. Secondly Laureth has Benjamin read through the first of three pages of the notebook that Michael emailed to her and she realizes that her father is obsessed with trying to understand coincidences and whether they have any meaning in our lives.

On the six hour flight over to New York, Laureth meets a young man named Sam who befriends her and tries to give her his phone number until he finally realizes that Laureth is blind. When Benjamin and Laureth arrive in New York, they meet up with Michael Walker who is not as they thought he would be. He is twelve years old and has a funny habit of speaking like someone out of a Dickens novel. But he does have Laureth's father's notebook which he gives to Laureth. Laureth tells him that their father is missing and asks Michael how he came into possession of the notebook and if he knows anything more about the notebook. Michael tells them that he found a receipt in the book from the Black King Hotel in Manhattan.

With the notebook as their only guide, Laureth and Benjamin set off on a race against time to solve the mysterious disappearance of their father and in the process learn much about themselves and their parents.

The first part of the novel is quite interesting, especially as Laureth learns about the research her father did regarding coincidence.  Jack Peak was going to incorporate coincidence into his next book and was doing research on it. Using this as a springboard, Sedgwick weaves in many interesting ideas that readers may not have encountered; numinous (the feeling that you have experienced God), apophenia (the tendency to see patterns in events), Benford's Law (on the frequency a digit will be the first digit in a number), as well as famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Paul Kammerer. The storyline itself is filled with numerous coincidences and chance meetings, all of which work together to help Laureth and Benjamin in their quest to find their father.

Laureth is a fascinating character, a teenage girl who's blind and who has worked hard to make sure she is not invisible in life. This drive to force herself to be assertive has been scary but in the end pays off when Laureth travels halfway around the world to try to find her father. Laureth's determination and initiative saves her father and her family. Through all of this Sedgwick does an excellent job of conveying to his readers a sense of what it is like to be blind, busting a few myths about the blind along the way.

The resolution to the problem of Laureth's father's disappearance is somewhat disappointing but is offset by the dangerous situation Laureth and her brother find themselves caught up in. Sedgwick uses Jack Peak's diary to build tension in the novel, as the entries grow ever more mystifying and darker, leading Laureth to suspect the worst about her father and her parent's marriage.

She Is Not Invisible is a departure from Sedgwick's novels which tend towards horror and the occult. Because of the numerous interesting concepts put forth in this novel, it would make an excellent book club selection.

Book Details:
She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
London: Indigo    2013
354 pp.

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