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The Unseen World

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Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion.

451 pages, Paperback

First published July 26, 2016

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About the author

Liz Moore

13 books2,189 followers

Liz Moore is the author of the novels THE WORDS OF EVERY SONG (Broadway Books, 2007), HEFT (W.W. Norton, 2012), THE UNSEEN WORLD (W.W. Norton, 2016), and the New York Times-bestselling Long Bright River (Riverhead, 2019). A winner of the Rome Prize in Literature, she lives in Philadelphia with her family, and teaches in the M.F.A. program in Creative Writing at Temple University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,616 reviews
Profile Image for Regan.
366 reviews109k followers
January 5, 2017
I'm currently obsessed with this book.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 508 books403k followers
February 10, 2017
I read this book months ago and it keeps resurfacing in my thoughts -- a good indication that this is a powerful story. All her life, twelve-year-old Ada has been raised by her father David Sibelius, who home-schools her and takes her to work with him at the university computer science lab, where he and his colleagues are working on early versions of artificial intelligence. Ada is a prodigy who can code, talk physics or analyze literature with her father's friends, but she has no friends of her own age and does not understand anything about "regular" twelve-year-olds. When her father David begins to lose his mental faculties, she is forced to adjust to a terrifying new reality, but she is also presented with a shocking secret: Her father was not who she always believed he was. The novel jumps back and forth between Ada as a child in the 1980s, and Ada as an adult in the 2010s. In both time periods, she is grappling with the legacy of her father's secret, and of the strange work he was doing on artificial intelligence. Before his mind deteriorated completely, David promised that he would see Ada again. What did he mean? Who was he? The novel is poignant, well-crafted and utterly convincing. A great read that will haunt you long after you finish.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
August 1, 2016

"Shouldn't she have recess, or something?" Liston once asked David, several years before, when she noticed Ada becoming pale from spending every day inside the lab.
"Agreed", said David, and so every day at lunch he had begun to march her around the
Fens for thirty minutes, observing the flora, naming the birds by their songs,
pointing out where Fibonacci sequences occurred in nature, once finding a mushroom that he said was edible and the cooking it up for the lab. Sometimes Liston joined them, and when she did it was a special treat: she derailed David's monologues at times; she told Ada about her childhood; she told Ada about music that her three sons listened to, and the television shows they watched, and at night Ada wrote down what she had heard in her journal for future reference, in the unlikely event that she was ever called upon to discuss popular culture with one of her peers. Often, Ada felt as if Liston were teaching her some new language. She consumed greedily everything that Liston told her. She looked at her with wide fixated eyes".

The two most influential people in Ada's life was David, ( her father--she called him David), and Liston...(David's best friend, his best thinker, his first author on all his papers, their neighbor). .....and Ada's favorite adult in her life besides David.

David found a surrogate mother for Ada....then raised her as a single dad. He was 46 when Ada was born.
Ada's memories with David 'begin' with conversations "are we happy Ada?"
David analyzed their lives as he did of all humans...but Ada knew "are we happy", wasn't a question'.

Ada was immersed in mathematics, neurology, physics, philosophy, and computer science well enough to hold her own as any adult in the room. She learned how to operate her father's creation called ELIXIR.....(a language processing software program...which models a human mind as much as possible). It was quite fun. I wanted an ELIXIR in my room to play with.

Ada also learned different 'qualities' from each of the core lab partners. The lab partners were her father's constant source of companionship, of knowledge, of camaraderie. And for Ada...the lab partners offered her some necessary part of her existence:
"Frank for kindness, and Liston for protection and love and common sense, Hayato for artistry and humor, Charles-Roberts for confidence and a sort of half serious disdain for outsiders, Martha, for knowledge of popular culture and fashion. ....
Above all others, David, for devotion and knowledge and loyalty and trust....protector
and guide of all of them".
.....Ada seemed grateful for her life as a child ....( mostly she thrived), but she also knew she was missing friends her own age. She also felt guilty if she even considered wanting to wear something 'pretty'. Her father liked just about everything more in the world more than clothes - and figured it should be the same for Ada.

There was a scene at the beginning of the novel...where Ada is helping with the preparations for a dinner party-- a ritual dinner at the start of each new school year for the grad students. David likes to cook and and is meticulous about every detail of the dinner and evening every year., The menu was delicious - Ada was the dignified perfect 12 year old hostess....but 'this year', after the guests had eaten and we're sharing other ritual stories, there was a moment where something was not right with David. Ada noticed for the first time.

We get deeper we get into this story:
......David Alzheimer's increases...
......Ada moves in with Liston and her 3 sons, William, Matty, and Gregory. Watching Ada observe a normal household - cold cereal boxes, junkie TV shows, 'boys' in the house ... was all fun reading.
......David leaves Ada a floppy disc for her to decode - which will uncover secrets about
David. She even gets some help...( exciting mystery time)
......The novel spans four decades: Beginning in Boston with Ada as a 'Lab child'....
to San Francisco when Ada is in her 40's.
......The ending was powerful way of seeing the 'entire' tale. ( twisty different point of view)

This is a gorgeous thought provoking 'very' entertaining novel!!!!

Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,839 followers
March 23, 2019
The Unseen World is probably the best book I have read so far this year. And, I am easily able to add it to my favorites shelf. It is overall a very complete reading experience.

When you start this book, I guarantee you will have no idea what it will become. As it progresses, a wide variety of complex mysteries, interesting relationships, and heart-wrenching storylines combine to keep the reader engaged. This book has no filler and no downtime.

This is one of those books that when it is done I realize I have a longing to really meet these characters and talk to them. For me, I enjoy many books without feeling this so, when it does happen, it is the sign of some great characters and great writing.

Categorically, I could see this fitting into the following categories and might be enjoyed by fans of any of these:

- Young Adult
- Mystery
- Cryptography
- Computer-based Sci-Fi
- Disease-based heart string pullers
- Family Epic
- 20th Century Historical Fiction
- And a couple of others that would be a bit spoiler-ish to mention

Again, it has a lot! Very worth checking out!
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews931 followers
August 15, 2019
Stories such as this one are exactly why I love reading.

I've read thousands of books in my lifetime. Most books, while enjoyable at the time, are forgotten within a year.

Then there are books like The Unseen World.

Books that take up space in your soul.

Unforgettable books with living, breathing fictional characters that reside with you forever.

One of those books that when someone asks you for a recommendation it immediately pops into your mind.

This is how a book is supposed to make you feel.

This is how it's done.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books412 followers
December 19, 2022
My complete review is published at Before We Go Blog.

The Unseen World is the masterfully written coming-of-age novel of Ada Sibelius. Ada is the daughter of David Sibelius, a pioneering researcher in artificial intelligence during the early 1980s. David is the director of a computer science laboratory at the fictional Boston Institute of Technology, or “The Bit” as it is affectionately known.

Ada is named after Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace, who is known as the first programmer--she programmed Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer and also published the first algorithm. Lady Lovelace was one of the most famous female mathematicians of the 19th century.

Ada Sibelius is homeschooled by her genius father, spending each day as a member of his research lab among the graduate students and other researchers. She is especially close with Diana Liston (known simply as “Liston”) who is David’s second-in-command at the lab.

David is a quirky but excellent father, that is, until his mind starts to fail with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Ada has no other family and must rely on Liston to navigate these most difficult years of her life.

Ada also has a friend in ELIXIR, David’s artificial intelligence program built for natural language processing. ELIXIR is meant to be a solution to the Turing test, i.e., the creation of a machine that converses so naturally that the user is unable to distinguish it from a real human being. ELIXIR learns by having conversations with people to help train it. Ada converses with ELIXIR every day, sharing her experiences with the program. ELIXIR becomes her main confidant during her tumultuous teenage years, almost like a brother to her.

The Unseen World mostly takes place during the 1980s, but it also flashes back to David’s past and forward to Ada as an adult. Much of the story is spent with Ada trying to learn about her father’s hidden past in an attempt for Ada to understand where she comes from and her own role in the world.

In The Unseen World, Liz Moore has captured the academic environment perfectly. I’m surprised by how many authors give completely unrealistic accounts of life in academia—an especially common problem in the so-called “dark academia” books, many of which bear no resemblance to real academic life. But Liz Moore has portrayed academic life so perfectly in all its detail. She has also perfectly captured life growing up in the 1980s.

This book is so good in every respect. It is a touching coming-of-age story/family saga coupled with a realistic account of the early days of artificial intelligence. I feel such a strong emotional connection with this book. This book is a new favorite—one of the best books I’ve ever read of any genre.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,137 reviews8,152 followers
December 12, 2016
I don't even want to analyze all the things I loved about this book. I just want to relish in that experience of reading a book that finds you at the right time and touches you inexplicably. It's a remarkable story, beautifully written and told, and I can't recommend it enough.

Video review: http://bit.ly/2hmv2zS
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
August 14, 2016
When David begins to lose his memory, his daughter Ada tries to tell herself it is just a byproduct of the stress he is under at the lab. As director he has worked on a language processing program called ELIXIR. Ada, herself has had a unorthodox childhood, born from a surrogate mother, it has been her a David throughout her young life. He has schooled her, taken her to the lab with him, directed her activities and education I the way he sees fit. Her only friends the others at the lab including a wonderful woman and fellow worker of her dads, Diana Liston.

It is the changes in Ada's life after his diagnosis and the secrets that then come to the forefront that are the bones of this wonderful novel. The combination of the personal, emotional and a life spent developing mental processes I found intriguing. This is a novel with a slowly unfolding reveal, and it was Ada and her story that kept me reading. Who was her father? Could the answers be found in the virtual world he was working on in secret? I found it all fascinating. Loved the characters, admired how Ada handled herself and just loved Diana Liston, who takes Ada in when her father can no longer care for her. The last chapter was just so perfect and actually gave me chills.

I loved her first novel Heft and this was another very enjoyable read. In tone and discovery it was reminiscent of Tell the Wolves I'm home.
Profile Image for Brandice.
860 reviews
January 14, 2020
I am blown away by how much I liked The Unseen World. Obviously I was interested in reading the story, but it was much greater than what I expected.

Ada Sibelius lives an unusual life - Different than other 12-year olds anyway. It is the 1980s and she is home-schooled, spending the majority of her time at the lab at the Boston Institute of Technology where her father David works. She solves math and science problems and works on the development of computer programs assigned to her by David. She is quiet, studious, and an eager learner. Ada is more comfortable in the lab with David, his close friend and co-worker, Liston, and the others there, than she is with her own peers.

After witnessing peculiar behaviors from David, he reveals to Ada that he has Alzheimer’s. This changes the course of her life - She begins attending school and moves in with Liston, who becomes her legal guardian, while also caring for her own three sons. This is a lot of change for anyone to endure, especially someone so young and unaccustomed to many standard social norms.

Before David loses all sense of his existing life, he gives Ada an encrypted disk and lets her know everything he’s done in life, he’s done for her. In addition to adjusting to her new life, Ada spends years trying to uncover this puzzle - the mystery surrounding her father and what he meant by delivering that message.

I liked Ada, and Liston, and David. They were each genuine characters - good people, trying to do their best. I truly felt for Ada throughout the book and was surprised by how devastated I felt on her behalf at certain points in the book. The Unseen World has all the feels and is a story I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,154 reviews1,694 followers
October 28, 2022

Le foto sono tutte di Oana Stoian, come anche quella riprodotta in copertina.

Liz Moore scrive sempre in modo semplice, chiaro, senza orpelli, senza fretta, con cura ma mai esagerata, mai artificiosa: la sua scrittura mi fa pensare alla stanza di una giovane ordinata, pulita, tutto a posto, niente lasciato al caso, accogliente, ma senza ostentazione.
Eppure con questo stile di scrittura costruisce storione: non quelle con la esse maiuscola, non tira in ballo personaggi rinomati e eventi storici. No no, si tratta di storie private, di gente più o meno qualsiasi: ma comunque complesse, incrociate, intrecciate, con rimandi e ritorni, avanti e indietro nel tempo – qui addirittura ci trascina in un futuro prossimo - agnizioni scoperte colpi di scena - che lei però lascia sulla pagina senza sottolineature, quasi en passant: niente movimenti di macchina o musica insistente come si usa sullo schermo.
Arrivato al terzo romanzo, mi accorgo che ho sempre l’impressione che quello che ho tra le mani sia il più bello del lotto. Ma non è così: sono belli tutti e tre, a modo loro simili e differenti.

Tuttavia, questo è quello che in misura maggiore mi ha suscitato commozione e causato lucciconi, incerto se immedesimato nella (giovane, giovanissima) figlia o nel padre, neppure sessantenne (oppure, poco più che sessantenne: dipende dai punti di vista. Occorre leggere per capire, preferisco non rivelare). Con classico animo democristiano stabilisco che parte di me si è immedesimata in lei e parte in lui. D’altronde sono padre e sono stato figlio. Lo sono tuttora, pure se ho sepolto entrambi i miei genitori.
Chissà dove afferra le sue storie Liz Moore, così piacevolmente ingarbugliate e complesse e stratificate, delle quali comunque spiega tutto, non si sottrae. Questa mi pare particolarmente delicata, rischioso anche solo sintetizzarla.

Il mondo invisibile è solo virtuale? Quello, qui, assomiglia molto ai ricordi, alla parte migliore del tempo passato.
Altrove, sappiamo, ha ben altro aspetto, e consistenza.
Ma è a lungo invisibile anche la storia di David, da sola costituisce un mondo. E quando viene svelata, scatena mondi di emozioni e sentimenti, che sono mica tanto visibili.
Direi che lo stesso si può dire della storia di Ada, di quella di Gregory, di quella di Evie, che solo in parte riesco a intuire.

Tutto narrato in terza persona, tranne il breve epilogo dove compare un inaspettato io-narrante, dalla Boston degli anni Ottanta – Ada dodicenne che interpreta e decifra il mondo degli adulti senza che le siano state fornite tutte le informazioni disponibili - al Kansas degli anni Venti e Trenta - dove David attraversa un’infanzia e un’adolescenza dalle decise tinte gotiche – alla California del 2009 (San Francisco e Silicon Valley) per finire di nuovo a Boston attraverso i primi decenni del terzo millennio – anche in un futuro prossimo, come già dicevo.
Ho trovato magnifica più di tutte la parte degli anni Ottanta con i primi Macintosh e i primi passi dell’intelligenza artificiale (la tenerezza di quel computerino Macintosh 128 che aveva il sistema operativo esterno contenuto in un floppy!)
La solitudine che avvolge buona parte della vita di Ada – che sembra la vera protagonista di questa storia, o piuttosto, di queste storie – mi chiedo se sia compensata e bilanciata dall’incredibile amore e affetto che la circonda, almeno fino a che David e Liston rimangono nel mondo visibile. E non credo che l’effetto sparisca quando entrano a far parte del mondo invisibile: probabilmente però si attenua. Perché un contatto fisico ha effetto diverso da un ricordo.

Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews672 followers
February 14, 2020
Ada's father, David, is different.  And so is she.  Brilliant minds, working and thinking in code.  Every puzzle presents another chance to learn.  Ada is home schooled, and works alongside her father in his cryptography lab until his mind starts to fail.  The question arises as to who David really is.  There will be no easy answers for Ada.

As an aside, when I was going to school there were no backpacks.  There were, however, three boys who carried briefcases.  It would be fair to say these guys were irregular weaves, indeed, they stuck out like sore thumbs.  Always alone, no apparent friends, they didn't even hang together themselves.  But they were brilliant, especially in maths.  To Douglas, Donald, and Kent - I hope you all went on to achieve stellar heights.  I'll just bet you did.
Profile Image for Carol.
353 reviews330 followers
April 22, 2021
***Reading once again for book group.....

The Unseen World unfolds gradually while the author introduces the reader to the main characters in the story. Once it reached a momentum, it was compulsively readable, smart and imaginative. I worried that I wasn’t left-brained enough to follow a story about deciphering encrypted discs and mathematical codes. Even so, I did love it and I’m very excited to read other books by this clever writer.

It’s an emotionally resonant novel about an unorthodox father/daughter relationship between Ada, a gifted young teenager and her eccentric, genius father, David. It spans 100 years and touches on several big themes throughout the novel from Alzheimer’s disease and scientific research to the Communist blacklisting of professionals and homosexuality of the 50’s.

Ada was such a well-developed character that her coming of age story and teenage struggles were often heart-rending. Her shattering first day at a private Catholic middle school (carrying a brief case rather than a backpack) was so painfully genuine that I wanted to give her a big, virtual hug.

Liz Moore vividly portrays David’s story as he slips away with Alzheimer’s disease. Ada’s anguish over her father’s gradual decent into total oblivion is compelling and poignant.

David was a man of many secrets and Ada’s search to uncover his past made for an intriguing mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The ending was a stunner!
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
October 18, 2016
Fifty pages from the end I thought I had my review formulated. I was going to suggest Liz Moore had used the wrong voice to tell this story. I thought it should have been told in the first person and not the third to sharpen its focus and avoid awkward POV shifts. However the very clever epilogue shredded my argument and made me re-think my entire reading of the novel. In other words she produces a tremendously clever trick at the end of this novel. All of a sudden I began to understand why this has the highest average rating of any book I’ve reviewed, which quite frankly was baffling me for long periods while reading it.

Ada is twelve years old when her father shows the first signs of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He and she share an unconventional relationship. He brings her up without a mother, without any other family, home-schools her and takes her to the lab every day where as a computer scientist he is working on a project known as Elixir – an early chatbox programme designed to simulate human conversation (we’re in the 1990s). Ada is brainy and helps out with the project. Eventually, dementia taking a more crippling hold of him, David, the father, gives Ada a floppy disc containing some code which will take Ada decades to decrypt and will contain the explanation as to why David has told his daughter nothing but a pack of lies.

This novel rather rambles for the first 100 pages or so. On the whole it’s a baggy novel that contains a lot of superfluous information, especially at the beginning. My feeling is at least fifty pages could have been edited out to make it much tighter and more focused. However there does come a point when it becomes hugely enjoyable. Basically when we discover David’s identity has been one whopping lie. My other reservation concerned the prose. It was bland and functional, as if written by a computer programme. Again the epilogue forced me to eat my words.

So, even though the mystery at its heart is sometimes over-elaborated and the relationships depicted veer dangerously towards a clichéd sentimentality, The Unseen World turned out to be a very enjoyable read and its conclusion was exceptionally clever.

Profile Image for Lisa.
1,470 reviews565 followers
December 25, 2019
Wow, wow, wow! From the first pages I had that excited feeling that this was going to be a good, maybe great book. And yes it is! I loved every page of Ada's journey. This novel is often painful but I had a hard time putting it down and now can't stop thinking about it.

The Unseen World is the third Moore novel I've read and the 2nd this month. Each one feels like it is from a different author - except for the excellent writing and courageous exploration of trauma - Heft - extreme obesity, The Unseen World - Alzheimers, Long Bright River - opioid addition. I am awe-struck.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews320 followers
December 11, 2016
I finished this some time ago and still can’t find the words to explain how wonderful and perfect this book is, how after turning the last page I went back and started the first again with a new perspective. Why is it that it’s so much easier to describe the feelings for a not great or so-so book? Ah, love, it is a many splendored thing.

This is a literary and emotionally-powerful read, a cerebral page turner that straddles multiple genres, yet the narrative never becomes bogged down in its aspirations. It was a deeply affecting novel as an examination of family, identity and memory, but it was also captivating in its examination of technology and the advent of artificial intelligence. Characters are precisely drawn and its elegant prose weaves all of the elements into a gripping tale.

Ada Sibelius is quite possibly one of my favorite characters this year. I felt every moment she permeated the book, understood every emotion and observed every nuance just as she did. I am too far from the growing years to fully inhabit a coming of age story, yet this quiet, brainy child had me from the opening scene. In it, she’s the only child at an adult dinner party for scientists and there she is mixing Gin Rickey’s for her father’s guests and yet we don’t see this as precocious, we see her as belonging and accept that this is natural. I never lost this sense of connection with this special child.

And the last chapter simply gutted me, not due to any revelations as I would never spoil this for anyone, but due to its synchronicity which addresses the infinity of time and the powerful impact of its significance. I cannot recommend this enough, I thank my GR friend Taryn for writing such an effusive review which pushed me to read another science-y book I might not otherwise have tackled. And while there are more eloquent reviews about this book than mine, I still wanted to take a moment to gush about its beauty and encourage others to take a chance on this emotional, creative, heart wrenching and also warming story.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,342 reviews701 followers
October 23, 2021
I am a huge fan of Liz Moore. When I’m involved in her stories, I lose myself, enjoying the pace (which is generally slow), and finding myself in the world in which Moore has created. In “The Unseen World” Moore explores the beginning of virtual reality…the true unseen world.

The story is told in third person, and the character the reader knows best is Ada Sibelius. Ada is the only child of David Sibelius, an eccentric and brilliant scientist who is attempting to develop software that mimics human thought and language. Ada is homeschooled by David and grows up in the computer lab. The story is part domestic fiction: that of a young girl growing up amongst brilliance, although isolated, in the scientific setting of 1980’s Boston; and historical fiction of the pre-internet time of computer science. Through a young girl’s eyes, the reader gets the feel of that period along with the feel of a girl coming-of-age.

Adding drama, at the tender age of 12, Ada begins to realize that her father is losing his cerebral edge. Plus, he is becoming even more eccentric. Ada and David live next door to a fellow scientist, Diana Liston, who is the lead scientist in David’s lab. Liston is a working mother who takes a keen interest in Ada and Ada’s development. When David slowly becomes less reliable, Liston steps in for Ada.

The story is told in time frames, beginning in the 1980’s and leaps to 2009. There is some back story of David involving the 1920’s, ‘30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The jumping between timelines allows for some suspense.

Once David is in decline, Ada wants to know more about her father’s past. The story takes flight in the unraveling of David’s carefully curated history.

This was a freebie for me on Audible. I loved every minute of it. Lisa Flanagan narrates. I found her style to be a bit too slow for me, so I increased the audio speed. This is the first time I’ve done that, and it won’t be my last. It’s over 14 hours of superb storytelling! FYI, it was an Audie Award Nominee in Literary Fiction, 2013.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
June 9, 2016
For Ada Sibelius, the center of her universe was her scientist father, David. He raised her on his own, homeschooling her, and every day he took her with him to his job, where he directed a computer science lab at the Boston Institute of Technology. David treated Ada like an adult, encouraging her to learn as much about the lab's work as she could, interact with his employees and graduate students, and develop her own theories about the work he was doing, trying to create a computer truly capable of social interaction with humans.

But as much as she loves every minute spent with her father, both in the lab and on the trips they take each year, at times Ada wishes she were a "normal" 13-year-old, with friends and perhaps even a boy to be interested in her. As that longing grows, David's mind starts to fail, and it isn't long before Ada must move in with David's most trusted employee and her three sons, and go to a "real" school for the first time in her life. She doesn't know how to act or what to do, and most of all, she misses her father and her days in the lab.

As if the teenage years weren't awkward enough for Ada, it suddenly comes to light that David might not have been who he said he was. What do you do when everything you've been taught, everything you believe about your life and the way you were raised is called into question? What does that mean for who you are, and how do you figure out what is true and what isn't? Ada must try and make sense of all of this upheaval in her life, while still struggling with her father's declining health.

Ada is determined to uncover the truth about her father's identity. Spanning from the 1980s to the distant future, as well as reaching back into the 1940s and 1950s, The Unseen World follows Ada well into adulthood, as she tries to understand the mysteries her father left behind, and how that affected their relationship and her ability to connect with others. The book also follows David's work, starting from a primitive system on an early computer into the sophisticated gadgetry of the future.

This is a beautifully written, poignant book, about a young woman whose life is utterly turned upside down when everything she had believed in is called into question. It's a book about identity—where and when it matters and does not—and about the sacrifices some people made in order to live "normal" lives. It's also a book about the unknown and the unsaid, and how both transform us when we least expect it.

While at times the book gets into a little more detail around computer science and virtual reality than I would have liked, at its core, it's a moving, well-told story. Ada is a special character and you really feel her heart while reading this book, and I found David pretty fascinating as well. The shifting of time periods was a little distracting to the flow of the story, but I still couldn't stop reading it, because I wanted to know where Liz Moore would take her characters. And of course, sap that I am, there was more than one occasion where I found myself a little teary-eyed.

Moore's previous novel, Heft , was pretty dazzling, so I had high expectations for The Unseen World . She didn't disappoint, creating another memorable, emotional, wonderful book worth reading.

NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Petrik.
675 reviews43k followers
December 6, 2017
2.5/5 Stars

Contemporary is a genre that’s totally outside of my comfort zone, and I think of The Unseen World as just an okay contemporary book with some mystery element.

I won’t be talking about any of the plots at all, anything I say will seem too revealing and believe me, this book’s plot is immensely predictable already right from the start; at least it was for me. The Unseen World has so many potentials, it’s a good book and I’m not going to deny that I finished this within two days of reading; it was compelling even though I have some problems with it.

It all comes down to the classic problem of “Show, don’t tell”. I don’t use this phrases a lot in my reviews, I have to be very sure before I throw this phrases in my reasoning but this book is absolutely an all tell situation. In fact, I’m pretty sure the author meant it to be written this way. There is a valid reason for this storytelling direction but a valid reason doesn’t mean that it will make the book ascend to greatness. The narration made all the characters felt emotionless, there is absolutely zero moment where my expression shifted from -_- it was that flat to me. Not only that, for a mystery book, the story was thoroughly predictable right from the beginning because the author dropped gigantic hints that made me successfully predicted how the majority of the story will unfold. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but nope, I was right. Finally, the pacing was a mess especially in the first half of the book. I almost DNF’ed it three times within the first 25% of the book, but part of this honestly is due to the stupid blurb that this book has.

The first sentence of the blurb stated: “The moving story of a daughter’s quest to discover the truth about her beloved father’s hidden past”. However, this storyline doesn’t even begin until the 50% mark of the book. Yes, 50%, after 200 pages then what’s stated in the blurb happened. This, in my opinion, is extremely dumb. Sure it eventually became one of the main plots, but The Unseen World is more of a family drama story rather than mystery. Besides, why would you put the blurb as something that happened only after you reached the halfway mark? This is why I try to not read any blurb but for this one, it was only a glimpse, how did it end up like this? It was only a glimpse, it was only a glimpse.

I know my review for this book sounds really negative, other than the reasons I stated above it could also be because contemporary is totally outside of my comfort read and in general, one of my most disliked genres. I think if you can appreciate the ‘all tell’ storytelling direction, this book would be a total hit for you, it's just not for me.

You can find the rest of my Adult Epic/High Fantasy & Sci-Fi reviews at BookNest
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,567 followers
February 7, 2017
A phenomenal book about a young girl's quest to discover her beloved father's secret past, The Unseen World slayed me so hard that I have to give it my first five-star rating for a full-length work of fiction in over a year. The story follows Ada Sibelius, an observant and shy prodigy raised by her brilliant and quirky father David, who leads a computer science lab in 1980s-Boston. Though awkward and uncouth, David always provides Ada with his company and his intelligence, so much so that by age 12, she contributes to his research alongside his graduate students and other faculty. However, their relationship unravels when David's fight with Alzheimer's disease intensifies. As Ada moves in with Liston, David's long-term friend and research partner, she also starts to search for insights surrounding David's obtuse past - and in this search, Ada realizes she must come to terms with how little she knows about her father, even though she thought that he gave her his entire world.

I did not expect to love The Unseen World as much as I did, even after the first 100-200 pages. On the surface, this book seems like it has a lot to do with technology, as well as the confusion surrounding David's past. And it does delve into both of those things, which will appeal to science fiction and mystery fans. But through reading about and growing up with Ada - smart, loyal, and oh-so-human Ada - we get to connect with all the characters in The Unseen World in deep, profound, and unexpected ways. And these connections fuel the magic of this mesmerizing novel.

This book's most powerful theme that shook me to my core: the way that we hurt and we heal the people we love. Though wrapped in a thrilling plot, Ada's most vulnerable moments of human connection stood out as The Unseen World's highlights. Several passages made me gasp aloud, and my heart ached for these three-dimensional characters and their feelings toward one another - Ada's complicated and ultimately redemptive relationship with David, her unique, unnameable, and unmeasurably loving relationship with Liston, and her hot-and-cold relationship with Gregory that proves the power and influence of time. Through these bonds, Liz Moore shows how we all hurt the people we care about the most - but we also heal them, in ways we may not realize until many years have passed. Over the course of 450 pages, Moore's characters walked their way into my heart, and I feel so grateful that she gave them the depth, the weaknesses and the strengths, and the tenacity to do so.

Overall, recommended to those who want a slow-burning, splendid work of fiction that emphasizes the importance of friends and family, technology, and coming-of-age. Such a compassionate book that reminds me of the heart-wrenching work Tell the Wolves I'm Home . Certain scenes toward the end of the book, such as still make my heart squeeze up just thinking about them. Try this one out in 2017, friends.
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 7 books55k followers
December 14, 2021
Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club February 2022 selection

This story follows a young girl whose world collapses when her single father’s undisclosed Alzheimer’s begins disrupting the happy pair's peaceful existence. David is a brilliant scientist, but as he comes to terms with his encroaching illness, he begins to plan for Ava's future without him. But he runs out of time, and never gets to tell his daughter the truth about his own identity—and why he isn't the person he'd always claimed to be. Years later, a visit from a long-lost friend prompts Ava to investigate her father's history, relying on everything he'd taught her about computers and coding to decrypt the clues he left for her years ago. Wonderful on audio, as narrated by Lisa Flanagan.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews517 followers
March 6, 2017
Ada Sibelius. What a Remarkably Drawn 14-Year-Old Protagonist!

This is a coming-of-age novel unlike any I can readily recall. Yesterday morning, after finishing it, I was ready to say 3.6, thinking then it may have been 50 pages too long. The novel did not affect me with a strong emotional reaction such as utter sadness upon finishing a few novels. This novel impacted me in ways that are much more subtle and rather more profound . Please bear with me in my too-lengthy explanation of this bold statement.

This morning, I say 4.6. My primary barometers on a novel's quality are whether it will follow me, has it evoked contemplation of some pressing issue in my world, whether I've been transported into another world in the reading, whether I've connected with at least one character in some way, positively or negatively, and Borges' test of aesthetic emotions mentioned below. On all counts, I'd say definitely yes. Moreover, if I was pushed to say the 50 pages I would have cut, I'd be hard-pressed to point to any parts I now believe were unnecessary to the final resolution and what I got from reading the novel.

This has been described by some as a mystery, but the mystery part is not that difficult. While that mystery certainly was the motor that drove the book from beginning to end, I didn't see it as a huge revelation in the bigger picture, particularly not in today's world. If you seek a book of mystery, you'll likely be disappointed and find this book too slow. On the other hand, if you are a "hedonistic reader" as Borges described himself, one who reads "books for the aesthetic emotions they offer me, and ignor[ing] the commentaries and criticism," then I think this book is for you, especially for female geeks, and I use that term in a positive way to describe girls who grew up with a technical or scientific precocity and/or weren't in the uppity social crowd in grade school.

Much has been made of the novel earlier this summer, The Girls, and how it was that many women connected with the 14-year-old female protagonist being thrown into an odd environment. The protagonist, Ada Sibelius, here is 14 for most of the novel and is thrown not into a fire of curiosity as was Evie in The Girls, but into several fires of which she played no part in starting. I connected much more with her, found her nuances much deeper, as well as having considerably more empathy for her fears, the betrayals she's suffered, and her utter lack of trust now in anyone in the world along with her significant losses. While it's true I'm male, the author Liz Moore has most definitely been a 14-year-old girl. While I had to look up the name Evie as "The Girls" protagonist, I won't forget Ada's name.

Ada grew up with her single dad, David Sibelius, a socially awkward computer scientist, being "home schooled" (before home schooling had been approved in MA) at his computer lab on the campus of a fictional MIT (here called Boston Institute of Techn.). She was born to a surrogate mother and raised by David. We learn much of their connection and life together and of Ada's work on a computer program that processes the English language, called ELIXIR. But dad's mind starts to go to the point he ultimately has to be taken to a home for Alzheimer's patients. Before he's lost all of his mental faculties, he gives Ada what should be the key to decode a text document explaining his past. Yet she cannot figure out how to decode it for many years.

Before long, she learns that his name was not David Sibelius. That disclosure is a big part of the book, because it sets Ada adrift at a time when she's already having a tough time adapting to the unknowns of a Catholic school after being home schooled all her life, and now this: a betrayal that shakes the foundation of her identity. Who was her father if not the David Sibelius estranged from a monied NYC family who graduated from Cal Tech and was hired to run the lab at BIT? So, Ada's having to attempt to discover David's secret world.

Another unseen world is David's brain slowly deteriorating from Alzheimer's, with his inability to recall the language of which he was so aware in building ELIXIR, and he then starts to have a Midwestern U.S. twang in his accent, starts referring to Ada as Susan, says his name is Harold Kannady and can only remember things if put a certain way, like his favorite Christmas song which Ada sings to him, when he's no longer aware of who Ada is.

The book is told mostly 3d person from Ada's POV, from early 1980s Boston fast forward to 2009 San Francisco and back to the 1940s and 50s to discover facts about David, ending in 2016 Boston and going beyond in the last chapter, the Epilogue, which is told from a completely unique POV.

I'll leave out discussion here of computer science and virtual reality, except to say that Liz Moore does a great job of breaking it down in terms that made sense.

In addition to the theme of rapidly changing technology, the book fully explores what it means to be a parent and to give your child a surname; the trust we blindly give our parents as children until we are betrayed in some way, big or small; the cycle of life, escape, love of family, what is your family (does it include a good family friend who raises you from 14 to 18?), puppy love v. amorous love, and fear of betrayal.

The thing I took away from it most was identifying with as fully developed a character as I can recall in recent memory, Ada Sibelius, a 14-year-old girl who was thrown into a tailspin by a double-whammy: the loss of her father and of life as she knew it to his Alzheimer's; and, the loss of her trust in him and her identity as a person at possibly the most precarious time in a person's life (puberty), and thrust into a social world in which she is painfully awkward and in which she has no one to trust, as she now lives with Liston, a close work friend and neighbor of David's, and her 3 sons, one of whom is 17 and is her crush. Seeing her grow into a fully-realized woman as she works her way through to resolutions in her complex life was most satisfying.

I recommend this novel highly for your enjoyment of such a remarkable young female character, and I give it an extra oomph if you were ostracized as a geek/nerd in high school. I do include the provisos that you should not expect a typical mystery/thriller/suspense novel, and you do not mind a slow burn in development of a character as a price for a more satisfying payoff.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,028 reviews2,538 followers
April 12, 2021
4.5 stars, rounded up
I adored Long Bright River, so I searched out Moore’s earlier works. This one grabbed me from the get go. Ada is twelve when she notices things aren’t right with her dad. He’s the head of a computer science lab, a single dad and he's homeschooled her. But now, this brilliant man is forgetting things. How scary would that be for a 12 year old? And then, it turns out, David might not be who he says he is.
The book moves forward and then takes to bouncing back and forth between 2009 and the past. David’s work involved a very early proto-type of what we today take for granted as Siri or Alexis. In fact, Moore even calls this early generation Elixir. As time progresses, we watch Ada try to find the truth about her father, as he recedes further and further away from the world.
The characters, not just Ada, but also David, Liston, who steps up to take on the role as Ada’s guardian, and even Gregory, were fabulous. I really felt they came to life.
The story sometimes dragged and I wasn’t sure I needed some of the in depth discussions of the specific computer technology. Flip side, I felt I learned quite a few things about the progression of Alzheimer’s. This story, despite all the talk of technology, is very emotional. It was gut wrenching at times. It’s not often that a book speaks to me the way this one did.
The ending threw me for a loop. I had to start the epilogue over to make sure I was understanding it properly.
I appreciated Lisa Flanagan’s job as the narrator. She brought Ada to life for me.
Profile Image for DeB.
984 reviews246 followers
October 10, 2016
Think brainy. Big brained, intense, abstract thinkers who live in their heads but who come out to play with the ideas of others and play with others who love creating, analyzing, puzzling over, observing and sharing ideas - that's the life of Ada Sibelius, daughter of eccentric genius David. She is geeky, homeschooled, socially stunted and just slightly aware of her unusual situation.

Ada is confronted by an enormous puzzle, among David's cohorts who are cryptographers, mathematicians, code solvers and computer programmers- given to her by David - but which becomes dwarfed by problems caused by David's declining memory. Who is David? Where are his credentials? Is he registered as her parent? What was his true history? Who is Ada?

This is a richly textured story, whose finely drawn characters tug at the heart strings while Ada and her peers take on the complications of growing up, as complex people in difficult situations. It is a story of legacy, of family, of unorthodox bonds which only time and maturity explain. It is about connecting - the ways we understand possible, its importance and the magic those connections create.

I took in The Unseen World in two big gulps. Character driven, tender, fast paced in its human mystery, magical in its technological puzzles and love notes...a book filled with a strong sense of place and time, and lovingly described. Highly recommended. Five stars.
Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews395 followers
January 14, 2020
I’m glad I waited to review this one because it needed to simmer so that I could better appreciate it. I needed distance in order to clearly see the masterfully-drawn, tremendously human characters in this moving story that stretched far into the past and well into the future. Perhaps a bit longer than it needed to be and for me not quite as powerful as Tell the Wolves I’m Home, this one, too, is a coming of age tale about (among other things) relationships, love, and the lengths we go to protect those we love. I loved everything about Ada and everything about Liston and their relationship. Overall, this unique story set in my favorite place was quite an achievement. For now, 4 stars.

* Still thinking about, discussing, and recommending this one. Upping rating to 5!
Profile Image for Emily B.
426 reviews421 followers
June 9, 2021
I found the unseen world to be pretty faultless hence the five star rating.

Firstly I loved the relationships within the book and how they changed throughout, specially Ada’s relationship with her father.

I found the story as a whole to be captivating and liked that different parts of the book were set in a different time of Ada’s life and how they each revealed something new about the story. I’ve read a few books that deal with memory loss however I liked that this was so much more than that.

‘If a machine can convincingly imitate humanity—can persuade a human being of its kinship—then what makes it inhuman? What, after all, is human thought but a series of electrical impulses?’
Profile Image for Ron.
388 reviews89 followers
June 20, 2019
Best book of my year?

My biggest compliment is this: Moore makes me feel like I'm with the narrator, within the story, as if I am part of the character. It's a strange thing to say when a main character is female, a teenage girl for the majority of this novel, but during the moments that Ada speaks, or feels, I feel too, because it's like I'm there looking through her eyes. This happens in other novels for certain, but more so in some. Two years ago I read another novel by Liz Moore called Heft, and if I remember correctly I felt the same while reading it. Absorbed by the characters. Two completely different stories I've read by her now, both were full of emotion in their own way; a favorite then and a very much a favorite now. So, best book of my year? Answer: yes.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,347 reviews4,863 followers
November 17, 2021

3.5 stars

The story opens in the 1980s, when 12-year-old Ada Sibelius is living in Massachusetts with her father David Sibelius. David, head of the computer science lab at the Boston Institute of Technology, is developing an artificial intelligence program called ELIXIR.....and Ada is helping teach ELIXIR to have 'human conversations.'

Ada was born to a surrogate mother, and essentially grew up in David's laboratory, where the research team functions as her extended family.

The closest Ada comes to having a mother is David's long-time colleague Diana Liston. The other scientists in the lab - Frank, Hayato, and Charles-Robert - function something like Ada's uncles. Ada doesn't go to school, but is 'home schooled' by David, who provides a rigorous curriculum for his intelligent child.

Liston, who has a married daughter in Boston and three sons at home, has lived on Shawmut Way for decades. When David became a father, Liston arranged for him to buy a house down the block. Thus Ada can visit Liston at home, and Liston can help Ada with 'girl stuff' like training bras.

Ada and David are happy and doing well until an incident at a party foreshadows trouble. David always throws an annual dinner party for his staff and graduate students. Every year David prepares lobster, Ada passes out gin rickeys, and David presents the same tricky riddle - about one man who always lies and one man who always tells the truth - to the new students.

This time David has a mental blip and can't recall the solution to the puzzle.

Though Ada doesn't know it yet, this presages David's oncoming Alzheimer's Disease.

At about this time, David - who loves puzzles, codes, and encryptions - gives Ada a floppy disc in a plastic clamshell case. David tells his daughter the disc contains a puzzle for her to solve, and it might take a long time.

A couple of eventful years later David is confined to a nursing home and Ada is living with Liston and her three boys, William, Gregory, and Matty. Ada is in Catholic school now, but she's socially awkward with her peers and has no real friends. In fact Ada's closest companion is ELIXIR, who Ada still 'converses with' every day.

A year or so later, Ada learns that David has been harboring huge secrets about his past. Ada is desperate to know the truth, but David's dementia makes it impossible to question him.

From here on, the book jumps back and forth between Ada's teenage years and a time more than two decades later, when Ada is a computer programmer in San Francisco....working on a virtual reality game.

The book becomes rather bogged down at this point, going into great detail about Ada's experiences in middle school and in high school; her interactions with the Liston boys; her first crush; her search for information about David's past; her attempts to solve the puzzle on the floppy disc; her anger at her father's deception; etc.

As we learn about Ada we also learn about David, who had a difficult childhood and lived through harrowing times as an adult. Like Ada's story, David's tale is overly detailed, and - though fascinating - slows down the story too much (IMO).

I was surprised several times by twists in the book and it wraps up in a unique fashion that I didn't expect. All in all, this is a compelling novel that I'd recommend to fans of literary fiction.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Barbara K..
398 reviews73 followers
April 13, 2020
This book is tough to categorize. It is generally described as a "coming of age" novel, but it seems unfair to leave the description at that. There are no murders, but at there is a mystery and a crime. It has elements of science, and with its futuristic projections, science fiction as well.

On one level The Unseen World also fits the description of a multi-generational family saga. But the nature of the "family" that is the core of this book is so inclusive and unique that it has none of the characteristic feel of that genre.

At its heart, this it is a novel about love and emotional connection. Love between parents and children, love between friends, love between siblings, and love of learning and of possibilities for the future. And the difficulties of developing and sustaining those emotional connections that support the love.

The quality of the writing is superb, well matched to the story, never ornate but always substantial. The structure is elegant, with most of the action focusing on the teen years of Ada, the main character, but moving backward and forward in time to show us context and outcomes. (I thought the epilogue was brilliant.) The technological and intellectual elements of the story bespeak Moore's creativity and intelligence, but never outreach what an average reader can absorb.

Well, there you go. Now that I've finished the review, I've decided to add another star. Usually I try to rank books against others in the same genre, but for me this isn't an easy fit into any category. But it IS an excellent book.

Profile Image for Jan.
424 reviews252 followers
July 1, 2016
Wonderfully touching story that really grabbed a hold of me with unique characters and it's slow and steady unveiling of past secrets and lies....

Ada Sibelius came to be through the assistance of a surrogate mother named Birdie, and was then raised by David-her quirky Scientist Father in the early 70's. Ada is essentially raised in the science lab that David oversees. She is home-schooled, so her only interaction and other human contact outside of her Father comes from the lab associates, who become an extension of her family.

Ada is happy in her small world, for it's the only world she knows. But deep inside she knows she's missing something. Something she craves, but is yet still unable to identify.

When David's memory starts to fail and he is officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Ada's world (now 14) turns upside down. In a moment of clarity, David tells Ada that she is going to find out somethings about his past that he hasn't told anyone. He gives her a disk with a coded message for her to solve. Even with the help of the other lab associates, the code remains a mystery for many years to come.

The story starts with Ada being a young child and provides wonderful backstory about her life with David. Soon the story flashes forward, and Ada is now a woman in her 30's. With the rest of the book flashing forward and back, David's life and secrets soon become unraveled and everything comes full circle.

I absolutely loved this story-from the heartbreaking effects David's Alzheimer's has on Ada to the wonderful Liston and family who take Ada in when David is no longer able to care for her. My only complaint would be that the ending was just a tad too 'perfect'.

Like enjoying your last piece of chocolate and savoring it ever so slowly, this story drew me in just as slowly-I was completely surprised at how much I cared about these characters.

Liz Moore-I am your newest fan, and look forward to my next read by you. Well done!!

My thanks to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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