Andrew Clements

Things Not Seen

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Things Not Seen Summary

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The first of three books sharing interconnected characters and narratives, Andrew Clements’s Things Not Seen playfully explores ideas of difference, acceptance, and social invisibility through the tale of a teenage boy who quite literally disappears.The story is written in the first person, narrated by the protagonist, Bobby Phillips, and begins on a cold February morning as Bobby is getting up to attend school. Still half-asleep, he showers in the dark, but when he finishes and wipes the steam off the mirror, he realizes that he has no reflection. Although he initially assumes he must still be asleep and dreaming, he soon accepts that he is awake and truly is invisible.When he tells his parents, they accuse him of tricking them, but Bobby convinces them when they see his breakfast cutlery seemingly floating in midair. Both of Bobby’s parents are shocked, although his father, a physicist, regains his composure faster, looking at the experience as a scientific experiment. Bobby’s mother takes longer to recover but, soon enough, both parents conclude that they must keep Bobby’s “condition” a secret, and Bobby must hide at home while they are at work.

Despite his parents’ instructions, once they have left, Bobby departs for the library. To disguise the fact that his body is invisible, he swaddles himself in a large amount of winter clothing. He removes this while at the library so that he is entirely invisible again and can explore the building unseen. When he realizes that his father will shortly be returning home, he quickly dresses and rushes from the library.In his haste, he crashes into a girl and the scarf with which he had covered his face falls off. However, to his surprise the girl is not afraid of his invisibility. When he helps her retrieve her dropped possessions, including a long white cane, he learns that this is because she is blind. When Bobby returns home, he argues with his parents. They are angry that he left the house, but he is angry that they abandoned him all day as though their careers were more important than his problems. His parents leave to pick up some dinner, and Bobby falls asleep in front of the television only to awake to news of a serious car accident. Footage of the crash reveals that Bobby’s parents’ car was one of the vehicles involved. Bobby sneaks into the hospital by removing his clothes so that he is entirely invisible again, and manages to speak to his mother. They talk and resolve things, but both of Bobby’s parents must remain in hospital, and Bobby must return home alone.

Stuck at home on his own, Bobby starts to feel increasingly isolated and anxious. He decides to return to the library, again removing all his clothes so that he cannot be seen. While he is there, he sees the blind girl from his last visit. They talk and quickly become firm friends; Bobby learns that her name is Alicia. They decide to go for a walk together but when Alicia stumbles and reaches out to Bobby for support, she notices that he is naked and Bobby is forced to tell her that he is invisible. Although she is initially skeptical, Alicia eventually accepts Bobby’s story. Later, they even discuss it with Alicia’s family.Meanwhile, however, Bobby’s school is starting to question why he has been absent for so long. His mother says that he is away visiting relatives, but the authorities insist that there will be an investigation if he does not return soon.

With the help of Bobby’s father, the physicist, and Alicia’s father, who is a professor of astronomy,Bobby and Alicia conclude that an electric blanket caused Bobby’s invisibility and decide to investigate. After being denied on the telephone, they break in to the headquarters of Sears-Roebuck, the manufacturer of the blanket, with Alicia distracting the staff by asking if they employ people with disabilities while Bobby sneaks in and takes a list of complaints. The list includes numerous names and telephone numbers and they call them, eventually getting through to a man who says that his daughter disappeared after using the same blanket. Bobby learns that the daughter’s name is Sheila Borden and, eventually, he is able to get hold of her details and contact her. She tells him that she disappeared three years ago and makes him promise not to tell anyone. Bobby is pleased to learn that someone else is facing the same problem;it makes him feel less alone, especially when he becomes increasingly skeptical about reversing his condition and becoming visible again.

Although Bobby is giving up hope, Alicia has a breakthrough when she realizes that, in the English language and in Math, two negatives make a positive, so if Bobby uses the electric blanket again, it may cure his invisibility. Bobby goes to sleep under the blanket and wakes up with his mother and a truancy officer in his room. They are all shocked when he reveals that he is both visible and naked. Bobby tells Sheila and Alicia that he is no longer invisible but does not get the response he expected. Far from being excited that she can also be “cured,” Sheila decides to stay invisible because she is used to the confines of her current life and believes she would have made herself “invisible” anyway, through drink, or drugs, or bad relationships. Bobby accepts this but sends her his electric blanket anyway just in case she changes her mind. Alicia is pleased but also upset, because she is afraid that Bobby will no longer want to spend time with her now that he is visible and able to do normal things again. After an outburst, she is able to explain this to Bobby by sending him an email and a poem. When Bobby reads them, he cries and the novel ends with him visiting Alicia to tell her that he loves her.