There is a delicious rivalry between Young Adult novel enthusiasts (who are above the young adult age) and those that want to rip that copy of Hunger Games out of their commuter-rail grip and throw a copy of Ulysses at their stomachs. One side sees the young adult section as the answer to the failure of the post-post modern novel, the other side sees young adult readers as worthless ninnies who can’t watch half an episode of Guiding Light without getting confused.
Neither side is right. That’s why the rivalry is so excellent – they both have to continually read novels on both sides to make good points, and if people are reading, then we all win. Things Not Seen can abstain completely from the fight, because it doesn’t fall within either of these camps. Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements is MIDDLE READER, a section that might as well be a benign bookstore tumor to both the stodgy intellectuals and the teen werewolf apologists. Unless you have a young reader in your house, I can only imagine the last time you looked at a middle reader book was the last time you thought fondly back to Beverly Cleary, and her physics-defying Runaway Ralph novels.
As a middle reader novel, Things Not Seen is strange. The protagonist, for one, is 15. For two, lots of the book is devoted to a budding romance between him and a blind girl. These two factors alone make it different than your average “Ages 10 and Up” novel.
The book centers on a paranormal event in which the main character becomes invisible. The most salient point of the novel – the theme that is most interesting, and the reason I’m recommending this book to you today – is that his parents can’t help him. They are two scientists, even – and they can’t help him. Things Not Seen is based upon the very real problem that middle readers come to face – parents aren’t superheroes. They don’t have any more answers than you do, and in the blown up, metaphorical world that Andrew Clements creates, when you go invisible, you only have yourself to figure out how to become visible again.
For some reason, this book has been on my mind. It’s a classic, even though it’s only 12 years old. It beautifully illustrates something that we have all felt at one point or another, but the family remains in tact. Go and find a copy, read it in an afternoon. Then… hand it to a younger cousin.