Trends in YA fiction may come and go, but if there is one genre that never goes out of fashion it is Contemporary. The reason for this is reasonably straightforward. YA Contemporary fiction, fulfils an important role in the lives of young people, helping them to make sense of and navigate their way through what is a challenging and emotionally-charged stage in their lives. Consequently, a great deal of these books tend to be of the quiet kind, little stories set in fairly normal (even mundane) settings. I do wonder sometimes, if many of these books are lost, overlooked by publishers in favour of larger scale stories, big and loud. This is a shame because quite often, it is these quiet stories that speak to our young people the loudest and serve their needs best.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to review Cecily Anne Paterson’s delightful Contemporary, Invisible. Invisible, is one of these quiet, unassuming stories that has so much to offer middle grade readers. I won’t go into the plot of this novel (although I do encourage you to read the review here) since my focus here is Paterson’s sequel, which is aptly titled Invincible. The sequel continues the story of 13 year-old Jazmine Crawford. From the outset it is apparent that Jazmine has reason to be a much happier girl than she was in the first book. No longer invisible, she has a strong group of friends surrounding her, including best friend Gabby and boyfriend Liam. Her hearing loss, which featured strongly as an issue in the first book, takes more of a back seat here. Superficially at least, Jazmine’s life seems perfect. It makes sense then, that Jazmine can’t explain why she is plagued by nightmares and why Liam’s escalating advances leave her feeling uncomfortable in a way that she finds difficult to articulate.
As the mother of a 12 year old girl I applaud Paterson for her sensitive addressing of a range of issues that a middle school audience will find relevant. On one level she frankly investigates the increasing complexities of teenage relationships as a whole. The melodrama of many of the characters is certainly typical of the behaviour of many of the teens I work with. However, what impressed me the most, was her sensitive approach to the way in which Jazmine feels when pressured into a sexual relationship that she is just not ready for. Rather than become all preachy (and show us the terrible things that might follow if she was to give in), she focuses on normalising Jazmine’s feelings towards this. We witness how, with support, she navigates her way through these emotions to become empowered, independent and ultimately invincible.
One of the things I really like about this book (and the first episode too) is the way that Paterson has elected to market the book. Realistically, this is a story suited to the younger teen or tween market, sitting perfectly in a middle school setting (although edging towards the lower end of this). Many of the books in this niche are marketed in quite a juvenile way often with covers that are interpreted by the target audience as being too young (even babyish). Instead, Paterson has chosen cover art that feels quite grown-up by comparison. I imagine that this will give the book great appeal for students, although I do worry that some primary school librarians will think it is more suitable for a secondary context.
While I would not personally teach this as shared class novel, it would work really well as an option for small group reading circles at grade 7 or 8. In doing so it could pair well with other Contemporary novels; Cath Crowley’s The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain or even the classic Robin Klein novel, Hating Alison Ashley.
Beautifully crafted and written with startling sensitivity, Invincible explores the frequently confusing nature of teenage relationships. In doing so, she shares with her audience an inspiring message guaranteed to resonate strongly with emerging young women of today.