Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Things Not Seen

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
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Oct 01, 11

bookshelves: 2011, speculative-fiction, ya
Read in September, 2011

Fifteen year old Bobby Phillips lives with his university-professor mother and physicist father, and attends a lab school in Chicago. He's an average kid, not particularly popular at school and rather overlooked at home by his busy, preoccupied parents. Everything changes one morning when he wakes up and discovers that he's invisible. He can't see his body, and neither can anyone else.

His parents are just as freaked out as Bobby is, but ironically enough, now that he's invisible they're no longer ignoring him. His dad is excited by the scientific aspect of Bobby's "condition" and could be Bobby's only chance to be made visible again. Both of his parents want to make sure no one finds out about this, because for sure he'd be taken away to be studied. Just think what uses invisibility could be put to by, say, the military!

But when an accident puts both Bobby's parents in hospital for a few days, he decides to get outside - first to visit them, then to explore. He experiments with going completely naked indoors (it is winter, after all), and at the library he literally bumps into Alicia, a blind girl who becomes his friend - and his first confidante. Meanwhile, his absence from school brings Social Services sniffing at their door, suspicious that the Phillips's have done something bad to Bobby.

With Alicia's encouragement, Bobby starts investigating his "condition" himself, starting with the discovery his dad made: Bobby's electric blanket. But will he discover what happened - and better yet, reverse it - before Social Services' returns with their ultimatum - and possibly to arrest his parents?

AFter a bit of a slow start, the story gets going when Bobby starts to venture out into the world, and gets really interesting, with Alicia's help, he does some detective work.

It's yet another YA novel that's written in present tense that doesn't need to be. It doesn't add anything, and doesn't suit the writing or the story, so that it doesn't produce a sense of immediacy or tension. It merely becomes distracting at times. Present tense is a pretty limiting thing to use; there aren't many ways you can write to make it actually work, so you're better off with past tense which is far more versatile than people seem to realise.

There are some interesting and fun parallels and analogies going on here that a teen audience would enjoy. Notably, Bobby's invisibility speaks to that classic, conflicting adolescent conundrum of feeling ignored, and wanted to disappear. Yeah I remember that one well. It's a paradox, two feelings that clash, being felt at the same time. It's confusing, but being a teenager is a confusing time. Bobby's encapsulates this paradox well, and so does Alicia: she's blind, and people tend to look away from blind people as if they're black holes, or the sun, or invisible. At the same time, she can't see. And on top of that, her mother quit her job when Alicia suddenly became blind, so that she could "care" for her full-time (which just makes Alicia feel worse).

It's also a fun story, with some funny scenes and two engaging main characters in Bobby and Alicia. It's a life-changing event, and I had no idea what direction Clements was going to take it - the direction he did take wasn't what I was expecting, which is all to the good.

There's also the aspect of child welfare services, and the looming prospect of Bobby's parents being arrested for failing to produce a healthy, safe Bobby. It adds an element of threat and reality to this fantastical premise; the entire story is very grounded, very much believable. It was a quick, fun read that nevertheless raises some interesting questions.
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