Traveling a long distance can be confusing and stressful. Now imagine you’re a teenager trying to find someone in a strange city, with only your young brother to help you. Think that’s hard? Now imagine that you are blind.
That’s the idea behind She is Not Invisible, the new book from the brilliant Marcus Sedgwick. He’s one of my favorite authors, and one whose books I wish I could buy for everyone because each one takes me to a place I’ve never been before. I’ve certainly never read a book from the POV of a blind person before.While it’s a marked departure from his usual dark, gothic style, it’s still feels like a Sedgwick novel because of its careful puzzle-piece plotting, fascinating characters, and sheer ingenuity. I also enjoyed seeing the author’s thoughtful, quirky side in the narrative voice–he’s a humorous, pleasant interview, and upon reading any of his guest posts, you get the sense that sitting across from him for tea would be one of the liveliest conversational afternoons you’d ever had. I felt the same way inside Laureth’s head.
Because I found the idea of a blind girl navigating unfamiliar places so intriguing, I asked Marcus if he would show us the places in New York that inspired scenes and settings in the book for our stop on the She is Not Invisible Blog Tour. I enjoyed seeing the world Laureth is thrust into on her quest to find her father, and I hope you will, too.
A Photographic Tour of She is Not Invisible
by Marcus Sedgwick
The hero of the book is Laureth, a 16 year old girl who’s been blind from birth. She never sees the world I ‘depict’ in the novel, so here, somewhat ironically therefore, is a photographic tour of the places she goes, with the help of Benjamin, her little brother.
The places Laureth goes are fairly mundane ones, airports, hotels, dirty streets. So these are not the most extraordinary photos you’re about to see; but as you look at them, try to imagine how it would be to be in these places without your sight.
Take this airport; the novel opens at London’s Heathrow Airport, Terminal 3:
Airports must be some of the busiest and most complex spaces we visit: the photo above captures a rare quiet moment, but even so, negotiating it blind must seem an immense challenge. I’ll be mentioning my friends from New College, Worcester, England, more than once in this piece – this school for the blind devotes many hours per week to teaching skills to help their students negotiate the world outside the school; public transport is a special area. But once the students start to cope with local busses and trains, their world starts to open up enormously. Imagine how valuable this independence is to them.
In order to cope with unfamiliar spaces, Laureth takes her kid brother, Benjamin, along with her. After a flight of seven hours or so, they arrive at the immigration hall of JFK Airport in New York. Now I have to say that making your way through places like this after a long flight is always a bit of a trial. If you’re unlucky and arrive at the wrong time, you can be in one of these queues for an hour, or more.
From here, Laureth and Benjamin take a taxi to a rendezvous in Queens, at the library.
They come here to meet Michael Walker, who’s found Laureth’s missing father’s notebook. She’s hoping clues in the book might help her find him, and she’s right, they find out the name of the hotel he’s staying in, and head into Manhattan to find it.
The Black King in the book is based on the times I’ve stayed here: the Ace Hotel, NYC.
This is the lobby/bar area. By day it’s full of trendy hipsters on their MacBooks, by night, it turns into noisy and raucous night club. When Laureth and Benjamin arrive she’s overwhelmed by the sound of the place at first, but at least the aircon is cool after the fierce summer heat outside. I’ve stayed at the ace many times, I like it but it makes me laugh a bit too, it takes itself very seriously at times and seems to work hard at proving to itself how cool it is.
The corridors upstairs are film-noir dark; at any moment you expect Sam Spade to swing round a corner looking for a dame or a fresh smoke. There are big stenciled instructions everywhere, but of course, neither the dark or the instructions are of any interest to Laureth.
You might sometimes have seen Braille instructions in public spaces, in train toilets, for example, or on museum displays. I’d often wondered how useful they were to blind people, so I asked the students at New College about these signs, only to discover that most of them weren’t even aware they existed. Unless you runs your hands over the entire wall of a new space you enter, you won’t even know they’re there.
From the hotel, Laureth and Benjamin head back out into the city, following a clue that leads the to the Bronx, to The Edgar Allan Poe cottage, now a museum.
This is an amazing place: it’s where Poe spend the last few years of his life, and is the last remaining part of old Fordham village. Now a part of The Bronx, the cottage sits in a small park a short way from its original location, and makes an amazing contrast with the modern city around it.
Later, following ever more desperate hunches, the pair head south again into the city and Laureth wanders into this bar, Third and Long, now closed, I think. This is the old view from Google Streetview. If you look carefully you can see the Empire State Building on the horizon, once again, a landmark for most travellers to the city but not relevant to Laureth.
Laureth has a rough time in the bar, but things start to finally fall into place for her when they make a late rendezvous with Michael Walker again.
They meet on the street, back out in Queens, here:
This is another Streetview image.
It’s here that Laureth learns some vital things about her Dad, and about Michael, and here too that Michael learns a little of what Laureth’s life is life. If you’ve wondered ever how blind people make sense of the places they visit, what the world means to them, here’s a short extract from the book as Laureth explains some things to him.
I stepped over to Michael, and put my hands over his eyes.
‘Like this,’ I said. ‘Just listen. What do you hear?’
‘The traffic,’ he said.
‘Yes. There’s the traffic, but you can hear sounds in it, can’t you? There’s that big truck rumbling down there, and someone’s impatient with someone over there, a little honk on the horn. And there’s a loose manhole right near us. And there’s more sirens in the distance, though the one for our man has stopped now. And there’s a helicopter overhead, and a plane even higher than that. There’s a guy selling bottles of water for a dollar down the street, and someone’s just walked by with a dog, a small dog. And I haven’t even started on the smells yet.’
I felt his cheeks lift into a smile under my hands.
‘And now we really had better go,’ I said.
‘Laureth!’ he said. ‘Email me? Please?’
I couldn’t have begun to write this book without the incredible generous honest and openness of the students I spoke to at New College. This glimpse of a scene above is taken from a conversation I had with my friend Jasmine one day as she explained things to me in just the same way. So if I managed to convey the sense of what it’s like to be blind at all, it’s down to Jasmine and the other at New College. I thank them enormously for their help; it’s their book.
Win a copy of She is Not Invisible!
Thanks to our friends at Macmillan Teen, we have a shiny new hardcover copy of the book to give away. All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below.
Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. Please see entry form for complete details. Good luck!
Our thanks to Marcus Sedgwick for visiting with us again! Be sure to follow along the rest of the blog tour for interviews, guest posts, and more. You may also see him on his U.S. tour this spring, or find him online on his website or Twitter.
And if you’re curious about the book, definitely check out the first 18 pages of She is Not Invisible as well!
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this feature. Photographs appear courtesy of the author.