“The world can ask you to participate, but it's a day-today decision if you want to agree to that proposal.”
I have just read one of the best books I have ever read. I found it in a pile of books I had been given- the blurb nor endorsements on the cover indicated it would be anything other than a mediocrely average book, easy to fill the time with, but ultimately unforgettable. Joyously I am wrong! “An Invisible Sign of my Own”, is a magical, painful and real book that loudly points out all that is wrong with society and how the innocence and energy of youth is lost in a grey, beige world.
The book tells the story of Mona Grey, a primary school math teacher who uses her Friday morning class ‘numbers and materials’ to get her pupils to bring in numbers they have made from nature and describe them to the class. Of the pupils, a few stories stand out, there is Lisa whose mother is dying of her cancer, Danny whose father is an American war veteran and Ann who is sharp, intelligent but lacking in social skills. Of the teachers, there is also the alternative science teacher who is vulnerably just as human as Mona is, the pretty art teacher everyone likes and Mr Jones, the math teacher turned hardware store owner who wears a number around his neck to symbolise how he is feeling that day. All characters who have a powerful story to tell us as a reader.
The book is so real and so true to the complicated tangle of human emotions and desires that it hurts. It is a call for passionate people to live their passionate lives and not be ‘faded’ by the world and give up to ordinariness. It is about finding the magic in the everyday things and not turning away from the moments that make you feel alive. The book talks about the knife edge between being saved and drowning in a sea of indifferent people and how deep and rare true human connection can be.
I started the book one sleepless night at 3am and finished it just before the alarm sounded at 6am. In between those times I was gladly in a world where numbers were made out of leaves, severed arms and medical equipment and it was magical! The book took me back to endless summers, the joy of learning in primary school and long forgotten childhood memories. Writing this, it made me wonder why we always write with the same-old fonts, that are sensible and easy to ready and normal? Why do we wear dark coloured clothes and have heels a sensible height and worry endlessly whether we are enough? Why can’t we just be as those young pupils in the book, just as they are and let the natural light shine through? In homage to that idea, I changed my font to Bauhaus 93, in size 16 whilst writing this. And yes, it did mean writing this was more satisfying! This book encourages you to go and feed the ducks, skip when no one is watching and rejoice in your natural talent in a way you haven’t done since 1st grade.
THIS is the book I would leave on trains or on park benches or mail to random strangers or press into someone’s hand and look them in the eye and nod in anticipation. It reminded me a lot of Carlson McCullers ‘The heart is a lonely hunter’ and is ultimately about how human kindness and connection is all we really live for. Go out and buy or borrow this book. You will not regret it.