Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let it be

Things That Are is the third installment in Andrew Clements' stories about Bobby Phillips -- who woke up one day and was invisible -- and the friend he made while in that state, the blind Alicia Van Dorn. I loved the first book, Things Not Seen, and listened to the second a couple of years ago (before I had grasped the technology of book covers), finding it a bit of a disappointment. I'm sad to say that the enthusiasm has further waned after listening to this episode.

Alicia is the narrator here and she is awaiting Bobby's return from New York (and the adventure -- that she doesn't know about yet -- that he had there, described in Things Hoped For). As both are in their senior year, and have been close for two years, she believes it's time to change their friendship into something more. But Bobby came upon another invisible person while in New York; and now that person -- an Englishman named William -- has followed Bobby home to Chicago, with the FBI on his trail. Soon, Bobby, the FBI, and William have all made appearances at Alicia's house -- where her father has been conducting physics (invisibility) experiments on some lab mice -- all of which gets in the way of her plans to talk to Bobby.

This seems like a lot to cram into a book that's under 200 pages, but oddly, most of the story consists of Alicia's zen-like (things that are ... om) internal musings about Bobby, life as a blind person, the problems posed by the appearance of William and the FBI, etc. She does go on and on. The episodes of sci fi that pop up in the story seem hurried and without much tension. Just as in the previous novel, the invisibility story feels awkwardly draped over a novel that wants to be something else altogether; in this case, a domestic does-he-love-me drama (kind of like the Princess Diaries, only not as funny).

The reader is Jennifer Ikeda, not a favorite. But her narrating style is absolutely perfect for this novel of internal dialogue -- it's all soft and introspective, with spikes of humor and emotion. She actually makes a clear distinction between Alicia's halves -- the one talking (endlessly) to herself in that lulling, sing-song way and the one carrying on conversations with those around her with intelligence and personality. It's just there's too much of the former in this novel for me. Ikeda also creates a third Alicia persona, in the form of her devil on the shoulder. This figure is sassy and speaks brightly and more quickly.

Ikeda also does a nice job with her portrayal of Bobby. His voice has a deeper register, and he sounds completely natural. She's not as successful with William. His English accent comes and goes, and sounds like he came from different parts of the British Isles at different times.

I didn't hear much differentiation with the other characters in the story, which made following the dialogue occasionally tricky.

There are very long pauses here -- between both the end of one chapter and the beginning of another, and then following the announcement of the chapter and the beginning of the text. In the extreme (and I realize that this sounds ridiculous, but it's really a long time in an audiobook!), there's as much as 20 seconds between chapters -- punctuated with that short chapter announcement.

Andrew Clements is such a great storyteller that I wish he would finish up this story -- which I think has been stretched way too far -- so he can tell some new ones! I like the fact that the Things books are for teens, but can be read by younger readers; so I'd like to see what else he can do with stories like this.

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