Review: Transparent by Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple
Series: None
Release Date: May 21st, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Number of Pages: 352
Star Rating: 1.5 stars
Word Rating: *stabs*

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Plenty of teenagers feel invisible. Fiona McClean actually is.

An invisible girl is a priceless weapon. Fiona’s own father has been forcing her to do his dirty work for years—everything from spying on people to stealing cars to breaking into bank vaults.

After sixteen years, Fiona’s had enough. She and her mother flee to a small town, and for the first time in her life, Fiona feels like a normal life is within reach. But Fiona’s father isn’t giving up that easily.

Of course, he should know better than anyone: never underestimate an invisible girl.
Natalie Whipple's Transparent is pitched as a YA mashup of The Godfather and X-Men, with compelling characters, writing, and practically compelling everything abounds. Adding to that awesome pitch, it's received a copious amount of positive early reviews from some very trusted friends of mine. And so, due to all those aforementioned points, I found myself asking before diving into Transparent, "What could possibly go wrong?"

A lot. The answer to that question ended up being 'a lot.'

Transparent starts out interestingly enough, and, for the first few chapters, I was captivated by the originality of the plot and the world. The opening few chapters are filled with a reasonable amount of exposition, giving the readers an admittedly brief insight into the world of Transparent, the main characters' pasts, and their presents, but the thing is that we're told, not shown, each and every one of those things. Which is where I arrive at one of the biggest issues I had with Transparent: the writing.

Compelling writing? I want in. Because quite honestly, the writing in Transparent was anything but compelling; it was absolutely frustrating to be told every single thing throughout the entirety of the novel, and I soon went from enjoying Transparent to disliking it more and more as abruptly as the main character switches love interests. There are a lot of things that generally annoy me in prose--for example, when that very prose is as purple as Barney, considering the fact that I find purple prose to be, while pretty, extremely overdone and rarely done well. However, purple prose was not the issue in Transparent. In fact, I wish the issue with the writing in Transparent was that it was purple prose. But no, the issue I had with the writing in Transparent was that with every (telling) sentence that I read, I felt that Natalie Whipple herself was taking me by the hand and filling me in on what's going on in her world, her characters' lives, etc. For example:
"Should we call Graham?" Graham is my brother. There is no one I hate more.
Was there really no other way of informing us that Graham is your brother aside from flat-out telling us? Or what about how you hate him? Could you not have just groaned at the mention of his name, indicating that you hated him?

In addition to the poor and overly telling writing style in which the entirety of Transparent was written, the world-building is both illogical and lacking. In Transparent, there were drugs called Radiasure distributed to the public after the Cold War. The purpose of these drugs was to protect people from the radiation from the Cold War. However, the Radiasure had some unwanted effects, and gave some people, and their future children, superhuman abilities.

That's it. That is literally all there is to the world-building in Transparent. I can literally highlight the one paragraph of world-building in the novel and write it into this review, but it'd practically be a reiteration of what I wrote above, if not a sentence or two longer.

And as for compelling characters, I'd like in on that, too, please. Along with the writing style, one of the biggest issues I had with Transparent was the main character, Fiona, and more importantly how much I disliked her. I appreciate how Whipple intentionally made Fiona an unlikable character in the beginning of the novel, and then attempted to build her character from then on to the end of the novel into a well-developed and likable character, and that's one of the reasons I can't bring myself to give Transparent one star, but my problem with the building of Fiona's character is that, while it happened, it didn't make much of a difference as to how I felt about her.

I understand the growing plights of Fiona throughout her life that would develop her into a bitter person, but understanding why she is the way she is, and accepting her as a good character are two completely different things. I understand why Fiona is so bitter. I understand why she immediately hated one of the characters in the novel because she was pretty. I understand why she is so angry.

But that doesn't mean I have to like her as a character, because I really, really don't. She's selfish and rude and is just an awful character, and no amount of character development was able to fix that by the end of the novel. Moreover, the other characters in the novel, while not unlikable in the least, aren't very compelling, either. I liked the character of Bea, who, ironically, is the person who Fiona initially hates for being pretty, and I liked (and more importantly sympathized for) Fiona's mother, and how awful Fiona was to her made me want to cry. But that's really all there is to it--I may have liked some of the characters, but I never felt emotionally attached to any of them, including both of the love interests, who, while met with development, I didn't care for in the least.

But, with all of that having been said, not everything in Transparent is overwhelming awful. I found portions of it to be genuinely enjoyable, the writing, despite the overall poor quality of it, to be often clever and witty, and as a whole it is compulsively readable. However, in the midst of an array of YA novels involving invisible teenagers to be released this year, I genuinely don't believe that Transparent has what it takes to stand up among the best of them.


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