Author: Natalie Whipple
Genre: Alternate Universe/Parallel Timeline, Sci-Fi, YA Contemporary
Publication Date: May 21, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC/Edelweiss Review Copy
Summary: Plenty of teenagers feel invisible. Fiona McClean actually is.
An invisible girl is a priceless weapon. Fiona’s own father has been forcing her to do his dirty work for years—everything from spying on people to stealing cars to breaking into bank vaults.
After sixteen years, Fiona’s had enough. She and her mother flee to a small town, and for the first time in her life, Fiona feels like a normal life is within reach. But Fiona’s father isn’t giving up that easily.
Of course, he should know better than anyone: never underestimate an invisible girl.
☆: 2/5 stars – a great premise, but just didn’t deliver.
Review: I was really excited when the blurb for this book went up late last year – I love anything with the mafia in YA and of course, superheroes/X-Men sort of stories and it sounded like “Transparent” would definitely be the book for me. Sadly, there was so much that needed to be done, and at least another two or three drafts written to smooth everything out even at the ARC stage of things that I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d expected to. However, it’s not without its fun bits, so I’d recommend it as a book you’d want on a rainy day, or something to read in about one sitting. It just didn’t entirely work for me.
My biggest issue with this book: the underdevelopment of nearly every technical aspect of this story. I don’t mind having unlikeable characters in my books – if anything, I welcome the challenge to see how they make their transformation by the end of the story. But there was no real significant progress here for anyone, and it felt for long periods of time the story just didn’t go anywhere. We waited and waited, but there was a lot of talking, and not a lot of action. I will give it to Whipple – she does know how to keep the pressure on the characters going with the threat of Daddy coming to bring everyone back to Vegas, but even there, I felt like the tension could have been ramped up more than just one scene with Graham flat-out abusing Fiona in front of his younger brother and mother. Which triggered me. But we won’t go into that. Just a warning: those with a domestic violence or dub-con trigger? This may not be the book for you.
The world – while interesting with the alternate universe retelling of what happened during/after the Cold War, and how it ended up in quite a few people having supernatural abilities, that too was underdeveloped. We only get a few sentences as a quick infodump at the beginning, but nothing more. I feel like Whipple could have woven more of the backstory of the world in throughout the story, and connected it a little more deeply with the characters. There is an attempt with this as to explaining how Fiona’s invisibility worked, but it’s rather poor in consistency and continuity. In David Levithan and Andrea Cremer’s “Invisibility”, we too have an MC that’s been born invisible, but at least he has a vague idea of what his face is like once he’s able to see it. Fiona doesn’t. At all. Whatsoever – and this is surprising, because there are quite a few things seem to trigger “seeing” what Fiona may look like (water on her skin, or sunscreen), yet we don’t really get to see her, and neither does she. Which was kind of ridiculous. There was so much telling over showing, I wanted to scream.
The world badly needed more development in terms of the mutation backstory, and the YA contemp world of Arizona just kind of barely passed muster. Add to the characters, which were very flimsily constructed. I feel like Bea and her brothers were really just kind of propping up Fiona with her desire to be a normal girl and to fight off the terror of being brought back to Daddy – they didn’t feel significantly developed, and they also have a one-sentence backstory as to why their family isn’t working for her father’s competition. Brady just kind of felt like an inserted love interest because he was attractive (thankfully, not exactly insta-love, but it got close). There was also a pseudo-kind-of-I-can’t-really-decide-if-I-want-to-write-it love triangle going on between Fiona, Brady, and Seth – even now I’m still pretty confused as to how that made it into the book without further clarification by an editor.
However, this book isn’t without its fun moments – the superpowers in action themselves were really fun to watch (I think my favorite was the kid who literally smelled like crap when he got scared), and the first few opening chapters with Fiona and her mother on the job were quite exciting. But it needed a lot more showing in general, as the sensory language was barely there. But those fun moments? They were worth it.
The triggers, though, were the ones that got me the most. Usually, dub-con (dubious consent) doesn’t bother me much if it makes sense as to how the character who’s giving their dubious consent actually works and functions as how they’re constructed. But instead, this is explained away again with Fiona’s father and his ability as a Charmer – basically, a male siren sans fins and stuff – convincing any woman he sees fit to do his dirty work. We’re not even really sure if this is confined to women alone as it wasn’t entirely explained. And then there’s the domestic violence trigger – yes, we know Graham is a thug, and we know that Mom is still in PTSD mode from being with Fiona’s father and being used and abused by him for years, but even Miles, who’s resistant to Charm and escapes Graham’s wrath, doesn’t seem to say a thing when Graham goes and nearly kills Fiona for a very small thing. It was incredibly hard scene for me to read – and Whipple did that scene very well. If you’re making me uncomfortable, you know the author is doing their job. But all the same, there needed to be more scenes full of tension like that one, just a little less triggery. More vividity, but less outright violence against women, please.
Final verdict? As I absolutely love the premise, I’m giving it an extra star, but the execution was poor and really needed a few more drafts and more editing to make everything make more sense. However, that’s just how I feel about it – along with the triggers, it just wasn’t for me. “Transparent” is out now in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance and come to your own conclusions about this story.