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An Invisible Sign of My Own

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  4,339 ratings  ·  517 reviews
Aimee Bender’s stunning debut collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, proved her to be one of the freshest voices in American fiction. Now, in her first novel, she builds on that early promise.

Mona Gray was ten when her father contracted a mysterious illness and she became a quitter, abandoning each of her talents just as pleasure became intense. The only thing she ca
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 17th 2001 by Anchor (first published July 18th 2000)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,339 ratings  ·  517 reviews

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Jan 01, 2009 rated it liked it
On finishing the book I came to Goodreads to see what the concensus was... and I continue to be amazed at the power of subverted expectations.

There are dozens of reviews citing the unbelievability of the circumstances of the book, or the lack of realism in the dialog of second graders and the thin plotting of the book... one notable review even complains that this uncertified (and likely certifiable) teacher is handed a classroom.

Which has nothing to do with what the book wants to do.

Aimee Ben
Aug 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who hurt
this book seems to me miraculous. i am blown away. the language is extraordinary -- simple and fluid and always surprising, all sharp angles and painful enchantments -- and what it says, the depth of pain the book carries on its slender breezy back, wow, it left me breathless. strange how much psychic pain such a little funny book can carry, how many deep terrors it can plumb: death, illness, the loss of those we need/love, the body and its redundancies, the unspeakable violence we do to ourselv ...more
Mar 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
oh, aimee bender. it's like you wrote this book and mailed it straight to the little postbox in my heart.
Nadine Larter
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Feeling humbled by the (to me) unpretentious quirk that is Aimee Bender. How glorious when reading feels a little bit like falling in love - something that you instinctively understand but could not possibly explain. I must admit that for this novel a lot of the charm lay in the reviews of others. Indignant school teachers offended by an inaccurate portrayal of teaching and children. Fussy readers who cannot cope when a story is not "just so" - as if being "realistic" and "structured" is the onl ...more
Jul 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just when I was getting a little weary of knocking down the unread pile of books from my shelf, Aimee Bender’s quirky novel about a socially awkward 20 year-old elementary school math teacher pleasantly surprised me with its unique perspective and wittiness. To simply summarize the plot wouldn’t give proper credit to the effect that the first-person narrative has upon the reader. The math teacher, Mona Grey, is a slightly neurotic and eccentric person who obsessively knocks on wood as her “invis ...more
Apr 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
The only reason I finished this book was because I thought it was well-written (OK, also because I didn't want to have to bring a dish to book club). I didn't connect with any of the characters and found them annoying. But more than that, this book really offended me as a teacher. The fact that this 19-year-old girl is allowed to just go teach seemed to carry the implication that anyone can do it. Forget about my degree, 60 hour work weeks, and hours upon hours of professional development every ...more
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I'd imagine that it'd be difficult to have ambiguous feelings about this book: you'll either love it or hate it. That being said, I loved every bit of it to pieces and have proceeded to carry them in my pocket with me and then scatter them around everywhere I go.

An Invisible Sign of My Own covers innumerable heavy subjects in a way that's so delicate and light that you're somehow able to take it all in without being pinned under a leaden weight. The writing is beautiful, like a dark surreal fai
Amber Anderson
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: rachel, salina
Shelves: novels, favorites
This is about a young woman (she's between 18 and 20, I think) who stumbles upon a teaching job.
She's eccentric, almost OCD, but in a whimsical and charming way that allows her to form interesting relationships with her second grade students...Not to mention the science teacher, whom she has mixed feelings about. He's cute and fun and she wants to bang him but she's afraid she'll lose him or hurt him or kill him so when she's horny she eats soap to supress her desire.
Weird, I know, but within A
Jenny Schmenny
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
I loved this. Admittedly, I have a surreal and unhealthy relationship with numbers myself, so I could relate to the plot. There's a leaden quality to the whole story, inertia and weight that threaten to drag the reader down, but here's the thing: you have a choice! You can decide to pluck the beauty and sweetness from down among all those stones. Bender's got some seriously whimsical ways.
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: august-2017
I am a huge fan of Aimee Bender's whimsical, clever work, and very much enjoyed An Invisible Sign of My Own. It is an unusual novel, as I have found all of her work to be, with an awful lot of depth to it. Interesting and strange, An Invisible Sign of My Own has rather an original feel to it, and is filled with glorious descriptions and some quite moving scenes.
Apr 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
There really wasn't much of a plot in this meandering tale of 19 year old woman, who struggles with most aspects of life, who is grounded only by her love of numbers. Implausibly, she becomes a 2nd grade teacher, without any training, because there is a shortage of teachers and the principal saw her doing long-division in a park for fun. Really ! Most of the characters in the book are just variations of the main character, Mona Gray. Her next door neighbor fashions numbers out of wax to wear aro ...more
Nov 10, 2007 rated it it was ok
I think I'm going to have to abandon this one about 2/3 of the way through. Aimee Bender's writing kept me in it for as long as I was. There are some really good literary moments. Unfortunately, I have been getting increasingly annoyed with the novel itself. Many of the reviews I have read here reflect on the lack of believability. While I am willing to suspend some of that disbelief for good writing, much of it did not pay off and could have been handled better, particularly in the school scene ...more
Bill H
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was bemused by the some of the criticism of this book I've read here and there, mostly complaining about it requiring too much suspension of disbelief. I'm not sure how the author could have more clearly telegraphed THIS IS A FAIRY TALE without, say, huge flaming letters on a mountaintop. I can see how it would be an unsatisfactory read you were demanding realism, but read it instead without that bias and you'll read, I think, the book the author intended.
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
i love working with people who have ocd, but get bored while reading about them. also annoyed when all it takes is a cute boyfriend to make the ocd go away. (though that boyfriend waaaaaaas cute.)
Romney Wordsworth
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
My favorite Bender thus far. Loved everything about this story. The characters, the premise, the prologue... everything. Never stop writing Aimee!!
The book is peculiar and definitely not for everyone. I would say that a bit of sensitivity is required from reader to some issues and maybe even some knowledge about obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive disorders, various effects of trauma / shock. When a person knows nothing about it and when he sees the manifestations he may think that this is a peculiar, bizarre one.

For me, this book is quiet nicely balanced. It is not overemotional, so that the reader can dwell into main characters phe
Siobhán Mc Laughlin
I started out liking this book - the fairytale element, the clever use of numbers as a thematic component, the lovely lyrical language that carries you along in a quicksilver current from line to line, page to page, as in a dream.

But then somehow, somewhere, it flopped. The plot was flimsy, at best. And its dark subject matter - death, cancer, mental illness - is not dealt with sharply enough, hovers as a mere shadow on the narrative that never fully comes into the light. Things are vague, too v
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Aimee Bender is one of my new favorite novelist/short story writers. Her short stories, for me, fall into the same category as Kelly Link's work: these magical little gems that are weird and wonderful and can't be nicely wrapped up. There's just something about them that I adore, even when I don't like certain things about them. That's the case with this novel. There was so much that I loved: the language, the symbolism, the quirkiness, the emotion (what a SAD novel this was, in many ways). BUT ...more
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
At first I was like THIS IS SO STUPID THEY WOULD NEVER LET A 20 YEAR OLD WITH NO EXPERIENCE TEACH MATH AND ALSO KIDS DON'T CHANGE CLASSES WHEN THEY'RE THIS LITTLE but I kept reading and realized that fables and fairy tales don't have to be set in a land far away they can be set in today's world and still use metaphor to teach their lesson.

Now, I'm not sure what this lesson is, other than Do Not Fear Death. But I closed my eyes and enjoyed the ride.
Mar 08, 2019 rated it liked it
'Interesting' is the best way to describe this book. The main character, Mona, has a thing for numbers and self-deprevation; once she finds something she loves or is good at, she abandons it. Except for math.

Her class of second graders are a wild bunch at best, a destructive, violent bunch at worst. Maybe these are her inner struggles? Once she comes to terms with the attention-demanding factor in her life (and classroom) she can let go of her self-deprevation little by little.
Apr 09, 2011 rated it liked it
I discovered this book through because of a movie starring Jessica Alba entitled An Invisible Sign. The preview for the movie was intriguing for a few reasons, among them being that Alba was actually going to be in a thinking movie that would require some acting and not just a pretty body. I was interested in the plot, so I looked up the book and ordered it right away.

It's just a small, barely-over-200 page, book. I started it on the last leg of my trip to California, and I was hooked r
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sometimes I make grand statements about myself that sound like facts but really aren’t true at all. The one running through my head right now is along the lines of how I hate quirky-for-quirkies-sake, but that Aimee Bender avoided that pratfall with her weird world of Mona Gray in the novel “An Invisible Sign of My Own.”

But I don’t really hate quirky-for-quirkies sake. I love Miranda July and her quirkiness is an affectation more jarring than a monocle … god love her. She once set her short sto
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was simply awesome! The character of Mona Gray had many traits that I see in myself. It will make you feel more comfortable with your idiosyncricies, and allow you to realize that you are not the only one who notices you have them. Written in a flowing, funny, easy to read, but poetic style, I soon realized after the first few chapters that this book was rich beyond comparison to most, with many layers of story including heart, life, disease, coming of age, and learning to care about o ...more
Chris Ruggeri
Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Good book. I especially liked the two stories (fables? allegories?) that bookend the action. Just not sure about all the stuff in between. I mean, I got it in the end. It made sense, what she was going for, and I can see how the whole story was working towards her point, but it just seemed like it took a lot of endurance to get there. It felt like a good portion of the story was just Bender spinning her wheels, showing off her considerable talent for finding uncommon descriptions of things--whic ...more
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"I quit dessert to see if I could do it- of course I could."

I think it's important to grow up with a book. When I read this as a teenager, Mona wrecking things on purpose resonated with me. I always happened to read it after I'd done something stupid like burning a friendship for no reason or spending all year impressing a teacher only to purposely let my grade in the class sail down at the very end of the year. So, Mona ritualistically quitting everything in her life that makes her happy, stuck
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: magical-realism
I loved this, but not in a love-love sort of way. Love like part awe, part disturb. Now that I have read both The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign of my Own, I am sure of one thing: I am envious of Aimee Bender’s remarkable talent. She astounds me with her feeling, ecstatic prose.

There is a magnetism to her worlds, a high-wire act, which plants you in the magical realism that is enough like reality to fool you, to draw you in--until it’s too late. It sounds like I’m descr
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"...I laugh just like my mother, is what she usually said, in horror. Oh God, she said, I'm so terrified I'm going to be exactly like my mother.
I nodded when she said it, but I never really understood her. I didn't understand the big deal. Everyone said what she said, but it was the opposite that broke my heart."

I think I could love this book by that moment alone, because it truly captures how I have felt about my mom since she passed. But that is not what this story is about, nor is it why I l
Dec 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I just really like Aimee Bender's writing. I was disappointed with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, but loved Willful Creatures. This book gets inside the head of loveable, flawed, slightly OCD Mona. As she goes about her compulsive knocking on wood, and her misplaced focus on certain things to the exclusion of others, I was sailing along. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone. There are no explanations of what's really happening. For example, Mona's father is ill (or is he?) with an unexpl ...more
Kathryn Juergens
Jul 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-pick
In my book club, we take turns choosing the book. There are only two rules: try to pick a book no one has read and no books written by dead white men. My first choice for this month was actually Aimee Bender's newest book, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. One member was already halfway through the book so instead I chose An Invisible Sign of My Own, her first novel.

An Invisible Sign of My Own has all of the bits that I love about Aimee Bender: the surrealism, the delicate language, and the
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Aimee Bender constructs her sentences like no other, and I think that's what draws me into her books and stories. She's enchantingly poetic even when she's describing unsavory things (in this case, like the narrator sticking a bar of soap into her mouth. Who would imagine that a scene like that would sound beautiful? But somehow it does).

She also kicks ass at blending the traditional with the unexpected by holding a magnifying glass to characters' quirks and hangups. On the surface, and in the
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Aimee Bender is the author of the novel An Invisible Sign of My Own and of the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and Willful Creatures. Her work has been widely anthologized and has been translated into ten languages. She lives in Los Angeles.

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