What is Visible
by Kimberly Elkins
Published: 6/3/14 by Grand Central Publishing
3.5 out of 5 stars
After suffering from scarlet fever as a two year old, Laura Bridgman lost four of her senses: sight, smell, taste, and hearing. The only sense she had left was the sense of touch. This novel gives a voice to the real life and person of Laura Bridgman, who was largely overshadowed by her counterpart Helen Keller. In the 1800s, before Helen Keller was born, Laura Bridgman was famous for her abilities to read, learn and function without four of her senses. She was raised and taught by the great Dr. Howe at the Perkins Institute. This novel begins with her early years at the Institute and follows Laura through her life as she matures and tries to figure out how she fits into the world.
I really enjoyed the first half of this book during Laura's earlier years at the Institute. It was so interesting to see things from her perspective and try to imagine what life was like for her. Very fascinating! As the novel continues, it begins to shift more attention to Dr. Howe and his wife Julia. I just didn't care as much about them as characters, and I felt my attention start to wane during the chapters from their points of view. I also wasn't a fan of the descriptions of Laura's exploration of her sexuality as she grew up. After reading the author's note at the end, I understand a little more why she chose to take the story in that direction, but still I did not enjoy reading it.
Actually, I think the author's note was one of my favorite parts of the book! It was interesting to find out what was true about Laura's life and what was fiction, along with reading about the reasons why the author chose to take the liberties she did with the fictional parts. I'm glad that I read this book and learned more about Laura Bridgman. I'm pretty sure I never would have learned that she even existed if not for this book.