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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: Invisible Things

Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson. HarperCollins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Companion to The Explosionist.

blog4 198x300 Review: Invisible ThingsThe Plot: 1938. Sophie Hunter, sixteen, has fled Scotland for Denmark. Had she stayed in Scotland, she would have been forcibly brainwashed to become a perfect secretary for the “good of the country.” Denmark appears to be a safe harbor. She lives with her friend Mikael and his mother, assistant to Neils Bohr. Sophie waits to hear from the mysterious Alfred Nobel, who says he knows things about Sophie’s long dead parents. War is on the horizon, but the world Sophie finds herself in is not one of politics but that of science and the weapons that scientists make.

The Good: In case the “Alfred Nobel is alive in 1938” doesn’t give it away, (well, that and Scotland using brainwashed secretaries) this is an alternate world. Briefly, in this world, at the Battle of Waterloo (1815), Napoleon defeated Wellington and consequences include a European Foundation that invades England while Scotland joins the New Hanseatic League, which is made up of Scandinavian countries. Some history remains similar – a war is threatened. Germany has instituted racial laws. Science is similar, and with Bohr and other scientists around it is treated very seriously. Spiritualism is real, or at least, real for some. The “invisible things” are the stuff of both science (atoms and radiation) and spiritualism.

From dynamite to nitroglycerin to nuclear physicists – it’s real, with slightly altered timeframes. Real enough for those who are into science to get a thrill by the names that are dropped (Lise Meitner). Sophie, in conversations and internal musings, thinks about science, weapons, war, peace.

Sophie’s parents died in an explosion when she was a child, an event she barely survived and hardly remembers. She is about to find out secrets about them, about their past, about their work, about their connections to people Sophie is meeting for the first time. Meanwhile, her friendship with Mikael is slowly turning into something more.

Sophie’s new home and her safety is changed dramatically when war comes to Denmark. An attack leaves Mikael injured and his personality changed; the European Foundation invades Denmark; and a new character is introduced, Elsa Blix. For a second time, Sophie flees her home.

At this point, Invisible Things turns from a story of science, war, and peace to a retelling of The Snow Queen. Mikael is Kai, his injuries turning him cold and enthralling him to the Snow Queen/Elsa Blix; Sophie is Gerda, out to save her best friend.

Every time Sophie turns around, it seems, the world and her place in it is not what it seems. It’s not just being a refugee, first from Scotland, then from Denmark. It is realizing that everything she believed, about herself and her family, is not what it seems. Her world is full of invisible things, slowly being made visible.

Do you have to read The Explosionist to read Invisible Things? No. The Explosionist features the spiritualism that is (sometime) real in this world, so that part is mainly in Sophie’s past, when she refers to experiences in Scotland. But you know what I’m going to say — you’re going to WANT to read The Explosionist. You’re going to want to find out more about this alternate history. You’re going to enjoy Sophie and her adventures and want more.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Gary says:

    Wow. Harper isn’t taking any chances with that cover, are they? Absolutely nothing hints at the historical aspect of the piece. Just put a pretty girl on the cover and she could be anyone. They must have learned their lesson with the cover of EXPLOSIONIST. Do we really need to trick teens into buying historical books?

  2. I don’t know, Gary, I think they’ve gone too far in the other direction– the cover is so BLAND that my first thought was “Why isn’t there any HINT of any of that cool weird alternate history stuff on the cover? It looks like a contemporary teen romance or something.” Except maybe the brightness of her lipstick. I think it’s going to lose potential readers just as much!

  3. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    I think this type of cover is a new trend — just the girl’s face, usually cropped in some way (3/4 or somesuch). I’ve seen a few fantasy titles like it also — it’s all about the girl, and you need to pick it up to find out more about it.

  4. Michelle says:

    I think I shall start with The Explosionist and then work my way forward. Sounds like an interesting book.

  5. Lenore says:

    I’ve had The Explosionist on my wishlist forever, but have just never committed. I need to do so!

  6. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Michelle & Lenore, I’ll be interested in reading your reviews. I really enjoy alternate history and I like seeing it make an appearance in YA.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Liz Burns, HarperTeen. HarperTeen said: Review: Invisible Things « A Chair, A Fireplace @LizB – http://ow.ly/33J2f "From dynamite to nitroglycerin to nuclear physicists." [...]

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