30 December, 2009

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

This was the book I read and it only took me four days and I wasn't even spending that much time reading, so it was a pretty good experience. My excuse for why it was okay for me to read a YA book is that it is disability-related. Things Not Seen is about a 15-year-old boy named Bobby who wakes up one morning and realizes that he's invisible. His dad is a scientist who gets excited about investigating Bobby's condition. Bobby's parents want him to stay inside so the media doesn't find out about what happened, but Bobby gets bored, so he starts figuring out ways to go outside without people noticing that he's invisible.

The book doesn't do inconsistent things like the Animorphs and Twilight books, which have people morphing into animals while wearing cutoffs or leotards or underwear. If your body developed a weird property like morphing or invisibility, clothes would not be included. So Bobby has to either cover his whole body with scarves, sunglasses, and gloves, or he has to walk around naked. Large sections of the book describe how Bobby learns to manage his condition, and how he feels about it. He likes being able to spy on people, but hates the fact that he can't talk to anyone or pick anything up.

One day Bobby is wandering around naked and he feels lonely, so he decides to talk to a girl who is blind. The girl, Alicia, soon figures out that he's naked, so he has to tell her the truth. Alicia's dad is a scientist like Bobby's dad, so the two dads pair up and do research on Bobby. Bobby and Alicia get bored of this and do some sleuthing around. This is basically the plot (surprise surprise, Bobby becomes visible again at the end) but it feels like background. There's more focus on Bobby's coming of age as he fights to be in charge of his life despite his difficult condition. But it's mostly a love story. We get the impression Alicia is Bobby's first close friend, and besides, he has a crush on her before he even talks to her. The friendship develops, but the crush just slow-burns until the loose ends of the plot have been tied up. The book ends before they officially become a couple, but we know that Alicia and Bobby really like each other and are going to get together.

I don't know anyone who's blind, so I am not likely to be sensitive as to whether this book is a cliched or offensive portrayal of blindness. Alicia's major personality traits are a)bitterness/sarcasm, b)easy-to-read facial expressions, and c)sensitivity (both good and bad). I guess these are probably stereotypical traits. Bobby talks about how he loves watching Alicia ride in a cab because he can see her react to all the sounds she's hearing. If I was blind I would probably think this is like intellectually disabled people meeting every new day with wonder, or ASD people being really good with computers. From the perspective of someone with very little experience, I thought it was a nice detail and Alicia was a good character, but I can see how someone might view it as trope-y.

We learn a bit about the assistive technology Alicia uses, which is cool.

Something that was sort of good and sort of bad is the whole theme of the book, articulated in the title. Much is made of how Alicia "can't see herself" doing the things she aspired to before she became blind. She is scared of "disappearing." Obviously Bobby's invisibility is sort of a metaphor for how Alicia feels about being blind. And also, while he is invisible he feels some of the same things. In the last chapter of the book, Alicia sends Bobby an email expressing her love for him and her insecurity that maybe he won't like her anymore because he is no longer disabled. She says, "I liked being able to help you because usually everyone helps me." Alicia calls Bobby her "invisible mirror" because, through helping him and falling in love with him, she has begun to "see herself" again.

I guess it's probably bad that not being able to see yourself because you're blind is equated with feeling like you have no future. But I'm glad that they portrayed Alicia (and Bobby while he's invisible) as having that kind of anxiety and inertia. I've struggled with similar issues, mostly related to being gay. It's overwhelming to know that your life is going to be different from other people's lives, especially if you don't know adults who are like you. In one scene, Alicia kills time while Bobby is stealing information from Sears (it's a long story) by inquiring about employment opportunities for blind people. She ends up talking to a Sears employee who is blind, and some other people who are very comfortable with blindness. This is obviously a big deal for her, and she seems both happy and upset about the experience. Even though it was couched in weird disability-as-metaphor language, I really liked the "seeing yourself doing things" aspect of the book, and was moved by the way Alicia came to feel, once again, like a real person with abilities and a future.


  1. Interesting - in the Marvel Fantastic Four comics, Ben Grimm/The Thing (who was an originally human spaceship pilot mutated by cosmic rays into a superpowered but grotesque-looking sort of rock-creature) had a blind girlfriend called Alicia. I wonder if the naming here is in homage (or "Shout Out", as the TV Tropes wiki would say) to that.

    Invisibility is a "superpower" that i find rather ironic, as my experience as an autistic person often includes near-literal invisibility, which i posted about here. I think it has metaphorical applicability to a lot of other (groups of) oppressed/marginalised people's situations, too...

  2. I like it, but i find it genuinely scary how following a link there literally *always* leads me to spend several hours there. It seems to have some bizarre manipulation-power, which, unlike most, even i'm not immune to...

  3. yeah, agreed, I never go there unless I'm ready to throw away quite a lot of time.

    I don't think I'm invisible. Which is yet another thing which makes me feel like I'm Faking It as they say on Arrested Development. What does being invisible mean?

  4. I am doing a literary analysis on this novel and i just need the antagonit and the chacter traits of antagonist in tis book! Please help me!!!! I need help!