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Book: “Things Not Seen” by Monica Boothe
Publishing Info: Peniel Press, January 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: from the author!
Book Description: 17-year-old Kristin has selective blindness. She can’t see, hear, feel, or smell, her brother. This doesn’t stop them from becoming best friends, turning his unique invisibility into a game, but when the two of them are stranded alone during a blizzard, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore. Kristin will do everything she can to keep her little brother alive, but she’s the least qualified person in the world to do so.
Review: I always enjoy supporting lesser known authors when I get the chance. And after Boothe send me an excerpt to this book, I knew I wanted to check out the entire thing. The concept alone sounds very unique, and it was clear from even the first few chapters that the author had a solid foundation for her main character and the relationship she has to her invisible brother that forms the basis for this story. Add in a snow storm, and you have a primed set! Let’s dive in.
Kristin knows she has a younger brother. She just can’t see, hear, or feel him. But everyone else can, so she has had to find unique ways to connect and exist with this invisible sibling. Through these extra hurdles, however, the two have formed a particularly close relationship largely managed through texts and the small context clues that Kristin uses to locate her brother out and about in the world. But when a snow storm strikes while Kristin and Josh are home alone, an entire new set of circumstances highlights the challenges of their unique relationship.
I really enjoyed this YA novel. As I’ve mentioned before, I really like books that focus on sibling relationships, as I think there are a lot of interesting dynamics to be mined there. Here, we see two very close siblings, but their relationship is largely defined by the challenges of Kristin not being able to see, here or feel Josh. As the story is told from her perspective, we see how this loss has shaped her every thought and action. Everyone else around her can see Josh, and it is decided that she as what is called “selective blindness” where he is concerned. The book wisely doesn’t get too far into the weeds on this condition, but instead uses it mostly as a platform for the plot and the character work.
For Kristin’s part, we see how this condition has lead her to increased levels of anxiety about the dangers she could pose to her brother. But equally, we see how defined her life has become by this relationship, especially considering the extra work that has been necessary to create and maintain their connection. As she faces decisions about college, these anxieties and changes to how she must order and center her new life would be very relatable to many teen readers, regardless of the fantastical circumstances of the invisible brother.
I also really liked that we got to understand a bit more about how this relationship has affected Josh. For him, it is largely like having a deaf and blind sister. But as the story is told from Kristin’s POV, these realizations, that her condition affects Josh just as much as it does her, are slow to come and hard won.
As I’ve just spent two paragraphs talking about the characters and their relationships, I think it will come as no surprise when I say that the strength of this story really comes down to how well-drawn these characters are. Kristin’s voice is very approachable and relatable. And I fully drawn in to the complexities and turmoil of this sibling dynamic. It all felt very real and natural (or as much as it can with an invisible character at play!).
When it came down to some of the more factual bits of the story, I struggled a bit more. I grew up in northern Idaho and currently live in Minnesota. So I’m very familiar with blizzards and large quantities of snow. A central portion of this story is defined by Kristin and Josh trying to deal with a blizzard and a power outage. And…I just really struggled with some of the details here. Blowing snow, yes, can make visuals difficult and reduce sight lines. But unless you’re in a completely new location, this isn’t going to have much of an affect on travelling short distances. In this book, Kristin is walking (not even driving at any kind of speed where visibility needs to be far reaching) outside her family home. I just couldn’t buy the fact that she would get this disoriented or lost. We are also told at one point the specific amount on the ground (I believe it was around 8 inches or so) and this is just not much at all, in the grand scheme of things. But, again, this probably only stood out to me so much due to my own very specific experiences with snow (let me tell you later about having to snowmobile 3 miles to our house all winter) and also my, admittedly annoying, over-fixation on accuracy in survival situations (re: all the my past reviews of survival stories where I go crazy over the stupidest little details or inaccuracies).
Overall, I think this was a very strong book about the joys and challenges of sibling relationships. I was really impressed by the way the author had thought out the ins and outs of her central premise, that one sibling can’t see/feel/hear the other. Kristin was also a very relatable teenage character, and I think she will speak to a lot of teenage readers. Yes, I struggled with the snow storm stuff. But I still came away from it having really enjoyed my read.
And don’t forget to enter to a win a copy of this book!
Rating 8: An intimate and relatable portrayal of sibling relationships with a a compelling and sympathetic teenage protagonist.
“Things Not Seen” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be onYA Contemporary Books with Great Portrayals of Relationships.