Pros: realistic depiction of mental illness' impact on a family
Cons: feels more like a YA novel that went awry
Young adult novelist Sara Shepard made the jump to adult fiction with her novel The Visibles, a story about a girl named Summer Davis whose life is overtaken by her father's mental illness.
::: The Story :::
When The Visibles opens, Summer is a teenager. Her mother abandons the family, which includes Summer, her father, and her older brother, and leaves all her belongings in the apartment. Not long after Summer's mother's disappearance--which both Summer and her father explain as an extended trip rather than abandonment--the first bombing attempt on the World Trade Center takes place, and Summer's brother becomes obsessed with foreigners and joining the Marines.
Summer and family leave New York to attend the funeral of her father's mother, and she learns there may be more to her father's recurring depression than she'd thought. Instead of getting answers, however, she's left with more questions, and a seemingly requited crush on her grandmother's half-Sikh neighbor, to the horror of her xenophobic brother.
As summer grows up, she sacrifices more and more of her life as her father's mental illness grows steadily more debilitating, and her brother leaves to escape the oppression. After multiple hospitalizations, her father begins to put his life back together and Summer continues her caretaker role by shifting to her father's aunt while she tries to figure out how to separate her life, and the newly revealed family secrets, from her father's past.
::: Still Feels Like YA :::
It could be due to the age Summer is when we meet her, but The Visibles feels more like a YA novel that let its protagonist age out of the genre than an actual adult novel. Even once she's aged to an "adult," Summer's character feels more like an angsty teen, lacking even the preternaturally adult status of some of the current crop of YA heroines. Even the conceit of the mother vanishing without a trace (quitting her job, leaving all her clothing behind) feels like the typical YA set-up.
That being said, however, The Visibles does a great job of conveying the impact that serious mental illness can have on a family, from divorce to children being forced into caretaker roles for their parents before they are even capable of caring for themselves.
Summer's brother's obsession with the first World Trade Center bombing feels contrived, however, and while it seems like it would be an obvious set-up for the later events of September 11, when the novel comes full-circle, that section falls flat. I'm often frustrated when I read a story that takes place over that time period that doesn't address the events, but in this case, the build-up was more disappointing.
Overall, The Visibles would have been more enjoyable had it stuck to one genre and stayed there, instead of trying to straddle two and doing a mediocre job in each.