Monday, 21 April 2014

review: She Is Not Invisible

by Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Book Press, April 22 2014
young adult contemporary
ARC received via publisher (thank you!)

Summary (from Goodreads):
Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness.
The cover:

It has a modern feel to it, due to the three different sans serif fonts used and the sun flare effect used to represent Laureth's blindness. Don't know how effective the overlay of a semi-transparent girl's face on top of a city is, but at least it makes it stand out.

The book:

Oh, now this is the kind of book all YA contemporaries should aspire to be. You wouldn't guess it from the beginning, which is a little rocky; flashbacks spot the first few chapters. But Laureth's disability, her blindness, is evident in her worldview, and the way she interacts with her surroundings and other people is an enlightening experience for abled readers such as myself. It's obviously hard for me to judge how accurate Sedgwick represented the blind way of life, but I would say he managed to make it a part of our protagonist's character without turning this book into an "issue" book. And when you see the challenges Laureth faces, the snubs from sighted people, the miscommunications that are just crushing, it's impossible not to empathize with her.

She Is Not Invisible is somewhat unique in that there are about one or two secondary characters, not including the antagonists who really only show up in the latter third of the book. But Sedgwick makes both of those characters — Laureth's brother, Benjamin, and a boy they meet in NYC, Michael Walker — count. Benjamin is an authentic-to-the-core seven-year-old, complete with a stuffed Raven named Stan, and he becomes incredibly important to the storyline by virtue of the fact that he is so important to Laureth. And then there's Michael. Oh my gosh, when was the last time a YA novel had such an amazing twelve-year-old? He speaks like an adult and yet is somehow stunningly adorable when his soft, happy side peeks out; his characterization is truly excellent.

Which is all a good thing, because the plot is wobbly. The author spends almost the entirety of the book sending Laureth and Benjamin around New York City searching for clues, while being beseiged by coincidences and information relating to their missing father. But though this thematic aspect seems vaguely interesting, enough to keep one reading through all the random notes that somewhat resemble info-dumps, the climax is completely action-oriented — and then the dénouement basically gives up on making this theme into anything meaningful, and hurries the storyline into a neat ending. It's a little bewildering.

Yet somehow, Sedgwick still manages to wrap up his last few pages with lovely, emotions-infused writing that brings every feel-good heartstring you have into tune. It's got something to do with the characters, something to do with the way that a contemporary can get away with having almost no plot but still resonate deeply as long as those characters are genuine. I don't quite understand it myself... but even though objectively the plot is wonky, I still loved reading She Is Not Invisible.

Ethnic balance: 2.5 out of 5. Laureth sort of ducks out of discussing Michael's race by saying that she doesn't "see" race. This is literal, but it would've been nice to examine how Sedgwick subverts the "uneducated black guy" trope in Michael's character by having the other characters reflect on it.

Rating: 4.3 out of 5