Written by: Marcus Sedgwick
Publication Info: 2014, Roaring Brook Press
One Line: London teen Laureth takes it upon herself to travel to New York City to find her missing father, and she must take her seven-year-old brother with her to help, because she is blind.
Brief Plot Summary: 16-year-old London teen Laureth’s father is a writer, and he is always traveling, so it’s not strange not to have him around. What is strange is when he’s not in contact with her for several days, and when Laureth checks his fan e-mail, she finds a strange message from a Mr. Walker saying that he’s found her dad’s notebook and wants to return it. Her dad is never without his notebook. Even stranger is the fact that Mr. Walker is in New York City, and Laureth’s dad was in Switzerland. Laureth’s mom doesn’t really care – it’s clear she and her husband are having trouble – and she’s going away for the weekend to visit her sister, anyway. Laureth is left in charge of her 7-year-old brother, Benjamin. Laureth decides to do something crazy, and books two tickets to NY to go find her father. Laureth is scared, of course, and not really telling her brother what’s going on because she needs him to be strong for her. She is blind, and she needs her
Thoughts: This is an odd book. It is quite short and easy to read, but it tries to pack a lot of ideas into what ostensibly is a thriller. However, at times it feels like Sedgwick had things he wanted to write about – coincidences, and their meaning or lack of meaning – and just stuck them into a book. First, the good parts: Laureth is a great character, and her struggle as a blind teenager is really enlightening. Although it might seem frustrating that she tries to hide her blindness yet gets annoyed when people yell at her for things caused by her blindness, we quickly realize why this is so, when she has a meet-cute with someone on the plane, talks to him for hours, and he turns away when he finds out she is blind. Sedgwick illuminates what it is like to be blind in this world, and the book is thought-provoking in that sense. However, it is the thriller portion that leaves something to be desired. Laureth’s dad’s notebook has a lot of information about coincidences in it, and it seems as if her father is going crazy, but ultimately, it adds up to nothing. A suggestion in the last paragraph to look through the book to find a pattern is, for lack of a better term, corny. Hasn’t Sedgwick’s team heard of the use of the internet to build buzz about a book and hint that there might be something secret in it if you look closely enough? (The team also seemed to ignore a number of typos and copy editing mistakes.)
There are also several oddities in the book, namely that Benjamin has some sort of supernatural condition that causes him to break every electronic item he touches. Their father says it is the “Pauli Effect” – a real thing, in the sense that scientist Pauli did break things quite frequently, but not real in the sense of it being a condition. It was, for most people (except Pauli, who studied coincidences) a joke. Given that this is a book about coincidences, perhaps it is no coincidence that we are asked to believe that the family had one daughter born blind, a preternaturally smart son with a supernatural condition, and a successful author father so obsessed with coincidence he ignores his family. In the acknowledgements, Sedgwick says that he himself is obsessed with coincidence and the number 354 and wanted to write a book about them, which is exactly what Laureth’s dad was doing in the book. Suffice it to say, structurally, the book really feels at times as if Sedgwick put these elements in a pot, stirred them, and threw them on a page. Perhaps that was the point, though – that the climax was unsatisfying may be exactly what he wanted.
However, the heart of the book is Laureth, and, as mentioned above, it is here that the book succeeds, even in such little details as remembering not to include visual descriptions – unless supplied by someone else – since it is Laureth who is narrating. Instead, she describes sound, smell, temperature, and touch, and also suggests that there are more than five senses. Laureth’s relationship with her younger brother, who guides her, is beautiful. Through the book, a theme is that we all must be kinder, and take the time to understand people, even if they are different from us. Sedgwick pokes again at our ease in judging people based on superficial things, as one of the important characters is revealed to be black late in the book. When this character asks Laureth if she didn’t think he was black, Laureth says she doesn’t even really know what black means. However, as a reader, it never occurred to me that there was much diversity in the book, and I was put in my place.
Someone expecting a great thriller will probably be disappointed in this book, but if read just as a girl’s adventure to New York, it is a winner.
Author Information: From www.marcussedgwick.net: “MARCUS SEDGWICK was born and raised in East Kent in the South-east of England. He now divides his time between a small village near Cambridge, England, and a remote house in the French Alps.
Alongside a 16 year career in publishing he established himself as a widely-admired writer of YA fiction; he is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Michael L. Printz Award for 2014, for his novel Midwinterblood.
His books have been shortlisted for over thirty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (five times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (four times). In 2011 Revolver was awarded a Printz Honor.
Marcus was Writer in Residence at Bath Spa University for three years, and teaches creative writing at the Arvon Foundation and Ty Newydd. He is currently working on film and other graphic novels with his brother, Julian, as well as a graphic novel with Thomas Taylor. He has judged numerous books awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Costa Book Awards.
His first title for adults was published in March 2014 in the UK:- A Love Like Blood.
US publication will follow in early 2014.”