Wednesday, December 16, 2009

REVIEW: Things Not Seen

Clements, A. (2002) Things Not Seen New York: Philomel.


251 pages

Appetizer: Bobby wakes up one cold Tuesday morning to discover that he has turned invisible during the night. How will he regain visibility? How will he survive in a world that can't see him? How will he get the girl!?

I know, friends, this is an older book -- but think of it as An Oldie But A Goodie. Plus, it was written by Andrew Clement, who became my best friend the moment he wrote Frindle and convinced me that I too have a chance to wiggle my way into the dictionary, if I just think up a neat enough word. Still working on that.

Things Not Seen is pure fun from the first page to the last. Clements has written a main character so realistic that the plot falls in line behind him, and each increasingly implausible page seems... possible. Bobby navigates through his surroundings untouched by anyone ("Me and John Wayne, we're men of action.") but able to see those around him for who they really are. This serves him in good stead when he meets the smart, cute, well-read and tech-savvy Alicia. She's coincidentally blind, which helps smooth over the initial awkwardness that always crops up when one member of a party is see-through. Bobby struggles with parents who don't understand him (and who really wish that Child Protective Services wasn't accusing them of hurting their "missing" son), with girl problems (Alicia's parents are understandably upset with their blind daughter dating an invisible boy) and with frostbite. What? It's February, and Bobby spends an alarming amount of time in the nude. It's hard to sneak when you're nothing but a floating set of clothes, after all.

I love this book. It's well-written and interesting, barrels along to a satisfying conclusion, and Clements throws in enough technobabble that you find yourself nodding along to theories of how accelerated solar fields and magnetic particles cause people to vanish. In between the adventure and the romance, too, you have the drama of poor Bobby cycling through stages of anger and denial as he begins to accept the fact that he may never be Seen again.

Plus, let's be honest. We've all felt invisible at one time or another -- even you, super popular high school cheerleader. It's gratifying, then, to see someone work their way through the perils of invisibility before fighting their way back to the world. (Oops -- spoiler?!)

Dinner Conversation:

Dad watches as I float forkfuls of rubbery eggs up to my mouth. So does Mom. And I'm watching, too. It's a good show: Bobby and His Disappearing Breakfast, now appearing on the Big Screen of Life in the Kitchen of the Weird. (p. 5)

She's having trouble breathing. Then the first words. "So... you're, you're really--"
"Yeah," I say. "Invisible."
Then she finishes her sentence. "--naked?" (p. 90)

I know my mom swears once in a while. Like if she burns her hand on a pan, or if her computer freezes when she's trying to print something. But when that social worker and the cops leave the house, Mom cuts loose. The A word? She shouts it. The B word? Mom shakes her fist and hisses that one. She stomps around the first floor of the house, legs stiff, face red, and she works her way through the entire alphabet of swear words, including some stuff I've never heard anyone say before. (p. 130)

And I'm alone in my room. Alone. Mom and Dad are down there, spoons clinking on their bowls, ladling out soup for their uninvited dinner guest, their fellow conspirator. And I'm alone. (p. 221)

Tasty Rating: !!!!

If you thought this was delicious, try:
Things Hoped For by Andrew Clement
In this sort-of-sequel, Bobby hangs out in the background while new character Gwen takes center stage. You'll like Gwen, I promise. With her, the word "awesome" comes to mind.

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