Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What we're reading: Marcus Sedgwick

I had the privilege this past Sunday to introduce the writer Marcus Sedgwick as the keynote speaker for the annual Frances Clarke Sayers lecture at UCLA. (Frances was an awesome librarian, teacher, and writer whose memory is preserved by featuring writers speaking about their work at this annual event.) So as part of my research to write his introduction, I read or reread a few of his books.  Here is a review of one of my favorites, a realistic contemporary novel with an interesting twist:

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick, is set in the present day, beginning in England but primarily taking place in New York City, and narrated by a blind girl named Laureth. Laureth's father, a writer, is supposed to be in Austria, but his precious notebook, which never leaves his possession, has somehow turned up in the hands of a stranger in New York City, who has emailed to claim the reward offered inside its front cover. Laureth, worried about her father, takes her little brother, Benjamin (and his stuffed raven, Stan), and gets on a plane to New York to find him--and what an adventure it is!

What is so wonderful about this book is how it is written. It takes us into the entire experience from the "viewpoint" of the blind girl. Nothing in the book is described visually--which you don't think of as such a big deal until you realize how visually dependent most authors are as they set the scene for you. People are described by how they look and what they are wearing; rooms are painted for you with colors and styles of furniture; streets are grim-looking or festive. But not here. As you read She Is Not Invisible, you experience the world by holding the hand of the sighted Benjamin and having it interpreted for you through the filter of a bright seven-year-old, who is used to helping his sister but who brings his own perspective to everything. As Laureth, you hear voices and sounds, smell smells, feel textures, but there is absolutely no visual to this story. Questions from Laureth and answers from Benjamin, plus her faith and confusion and confidence and fear become yours, as if it is you whom Benjamin leads by the hand.

The book is also about coincidence, synchronicity, an obsession with making order from chaos, discovering random moments of clarity from within a background of noise. It's a journey for all the characters, and the last paragraph is an unexpected and delightful gift. (All you philistines who read the last page of a book first, DON'T DO IT!)


What a cool book!


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