Thursday, 2 October 2014

How to Be Invisible by Tim Lott **Review**

How to Be Invisible
Series: None
Pages: 272
Publisher: Walker Books
Release date: 6th June 2013
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

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Goodreads synopsis:
It was the 13th of September, 13 days after my 13th birthday, when I first learned how to be invisible.

Strato Nyman couldn’t be more of an odd-one-out. He’s the only black kid in Hedgecombe-upon-Dray, he knows more about particle physics than his teacher, and he’s constantly picked on by school bully Lloyd Archibald Turnbull. It’s only at home that he blends in to the background – his parents are too busy arguing to notice he exists. But one day, Strato picks up a dusty old book in a mysterious bookshop and learns how to become invisible. He soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem … and realizes standing out isn’t so bad after all.

The first thing that intrigued me about this book was the title. How could a book entitled How to Be Invisible not be seriously awesome?! My first question: Would I learn the secret to invisibility. I thought this would be highly unlikely, but I liked the idea of it nevertheless. Who wouldn't?
The second thing – and the deciding factor in my choosing to buy the book – was the cover. How spectacular is the cover art? My interest had officially been piqued, and I had yet to even read the synopsis (in fact, I'm not sure I ever did). I knew I wouldn't be able to resist it for long.

The story begins in the same way as the synopsis (above).

'It was the 13th of September, 13 days after my 13th birthday,
when I first learned how to be invisible.'

An excellent start, in my humble opinion, and I was sucked straight into the story. I would like to say that I remained entirely engrossed for the rest of the book, but that would not be true (and I know how much Strato hates lies). Although I didn't dislike the book as such, I did have my problems with it. But, as Strato Nyman would say, more of that later.
First I will tell you what I did like about it. I did like the atmosphere of the book. By that I mean the feeling that the setting and characters gave it, and the overall feeling that the narrative supplied. At times it read a lot like a more 'classic' children's book. I don't mean that I think it is a classic, because I don't, but I feel like it has a more traditional feel to the narrative than a lot of other books being published today have. For me, this made it quite nostalgic and I found that I flew through it with ease.
I also loved the concept. The idea of a boy coming across a strange book, given to him by a strange ... stranger ... and then discovering that the book gives him the ability to become invisible is a great one. How many children don't fantasise at some point about being able to turn invisible? And then there's what Strato decides to do with it – I would have done exactly the same thing (although I would have been more mischievous and made objects float in midair too...).
Some of the characters were also fantastic. Strangely, Strato was not my favourite character. Although he was a good narrator and I did like him, I found myself much more interested in the secondary characters; namely Lloyd Archibald Turnbull and Susan Brown. Lloyd is a subtle bully – he isn't a physical, or even obviously psychological bully – but he does say and do things to hurt our protagonist. However, he has his own story, and as I found out more about him, I found that I liked him more. His character was also the one with the most development. Susan I liked simply because she is a nice person and I found that I could relate to her much more than I could the others.

However, as I said, I do have problems with this book, and some of them did pull me out of the story on occasion. My biggest problem was that I couldn't believe the reactions that some of the characters had in certain situations. I just didn't think that it was realistic – especially when the adult characters were concerned. This was especially evident at the end.
I also found that the plot was a little wishy-washy in parts. Although Strato writes a to-do list when he first discovers his new ability, he doesn't stick to it. He wanders off and investigates other things, and the plot meanders around a bit. It just didn't feel as focussed as I'd have liked. There was strange twists in the plot that were a little out of place. There were also elements of the plot that I would have liked to learn more about – like more about the man who gave Strato the book and more about the magical world that lies beyond it. Having had snippets of information about this, I felt cheated not having any more. But maybe that's just me.
There was also the ethnicity of Strato. We know that he is the only 'black kid' (as the synopsis puts it) in the town, and that is exactly the point – we're told time and time again, even when this does not seem appropriate. Strato even wonders if a teacher singles him out because of it. This would not be a problem if there was cause for such suspicion, but as far as I could see, there wasn't. And it's mentioned more than once when it really isn't required – when it wouldn't even enter the minds of real people. I think it's great that the book shows ethnic and cultural diversity, but I felt a little as though a point was being made of it a little too forcefully at times.

Despite all of this though, How to Be Invisible is an enjoyable story. It has a sense of fun and mystery, is full of quirky and interesting characters (even if sometimes they do not act like real people...) and had a very pleasant, magical atmosphere, like being wrapped in a cuddly blanket, and makes a nice, easy read. All in all, I think, a good autumn read.


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