Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on September 8, 2015
Genres: fairy tale, fantasy
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Aidan Lockwood feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life, each day as hazy and unremarkable as the one before it. But when his former best friend, Jarrod, suddenly moves back to town, the veil that has clouded Aidan’s mind begins to lift. Yet what Aidan discovers is that his world is haunted by stories of the past; stories that he has somehow been prevented from remembering.
But visions from the past come to him unbidden, starting with an old apple tree—a gnarled, dead thing—that haunts Aidan’s sleep, and seems to beckon to him from across his family’s orchard. And then there are the dreams that show him people and places he’s only heard of in family stories: a great-grandfather on the field of battle; his own father, stumbling upon an unspeakable tragedy; and a mysterious young boy whose whispered words may be at the heart of the curse that now holds Aidan’s family in its grip.
But there’s another presence lurking within this invisible world—someone who has been waiting to collect on a debt set into motion generations ago. As the lines between the past and the present, stories and truths, friends and lovers begin to blur, Aidan will be forced to spin a story of his own to protect those he loves, and keep the invisible world at bay.
I seem to have an affinity for those books which are magical and strange and not entirely definable. Sitting down to the write this review, it occurs to me how difficult it is to describe this book. I can tell you what it’s about, but to describe the experience of reading it almost makes me feel like I’ve had a spell cast on me myself. There is a palpable sense of unreality throughout as Aidan journeys to unravel the mysteries of himself and his family.
Aidan can’t remember entire swaths of his life and he doesn’t even realize it. He drifts along as in a fog, feeling barely there at all. Until the day an old friend comes back into his life and lost memories begin to shake themselves loose from their bindings. But who bound Aidan’s memories, and why?
You have to tell your story true, and not everyone can do that.
Why not, I’d asked.
Because, my mother said, telling the truth is the hardest thing a person can do.
On the surface this book is about a teenage boy navigating the typical contemporary issues of identity and self. It’s about that below the surface, too. It takes place in the “real world,” but is also part paranormal, part fairytale. The “invisible world” of the title is always lurking at the edges of Aidan’s consciousness, lying in wait to draw him in. “Wonder” is also in the title and is appropriate as the novel is imbued with it. The writing is gorgeous. Even in the midst of a very ordinary contemporary scene, it’s impossible to forget the magic woven into the fabric of the story.
Wonders of the Invisible World reminds me of being a fairy tale in ways similar to which Bone Gap and Cuckoo Song reminded me of fairy tales. I am reminded of Bone Gap in that there is the contemporary setting, but has magic mixed with social justice messaging. Also, the magic in Bone Gap is specifically of a Polish folktale variety, as it is here as well. And I am reminded of Cuckoo Song in that there are strong themes of family, suffering, loss, reunion, and a cursed child. Might I even suggest that there is a dash of Uprooted here? I might. There is a very creepy tree that adds the appropriate tinge of horror.
The book is also part generational saga, and very much a love letter to rural Ohio. As memories start to come to the surface, Aidan realizes that he has magical/paranormal abilities. Along with being able to see the hidden currents of magic in the world, Aidan can “reach across” and show others the past or the future. He can travel through the “shadow world” to see events in the past that he is connected to (in this instance, his ancestors) as if he were there himself. The mysteries of Aidan’s binding stretch back across generations of his family history, and he must learn their stories in order to break it.
That’s the thing about this book. It’s all about the power of story. Aidan’s binding is itself referred to as a “story.” A “story” being a sort of spell placed over him in an effort at protection against a family curse. The binder told a story and in so doing changed Aidan’s reality. The book is story as magic, or superpower. We have the power to tell our own stories, to change our stories, and in so doing change our realities.
“The teller shapes the story. If you don’t tell it, the story shapes you.”
This is a story about love. There is family love, and love of the land from which you came. Accordingly there is a romantic story for Aidan. Wonderfully, this relationship is with his long lost friend Jarrod. Often I see people expressing their wish that a book feature queer characters where the primary conflict is not their queerness, and that is so here. The primary conflict in this story is untangling a magical web. There are, of course, natural worries Aidan has such as the reception of his relationship in the small town, Midwestern setting. But it is overall very refreshing to have a male/male romantic relationship in YA that is an effortless and organic part of the story. The love story is super sweet and the chemistry between the two characters is just lovely.
Do you ever feel like reading YA gets formulaic? That you pick up a book and you know pretty much exactly how it’s going to go? I think as a blogger it’s easy to suffer burnout. This is the story to read when you’re itching for something different. This isn’t to say that the book is groundbreaking, or you won’t find typical tropes employed. But it’s done so differently and beautifully, and the journey is altogether just magical and lovely.