Kim Johnson is an award-winning and critically acclaimed author. She is known for her justice thrillers. Now she has created a new work in that genre called Invisible Son, about being a young Black man in America. This YA is perfect for fans of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Plot of Invisible Son
What happens when you’re wrongly accused of a crime, a virus shuts down the world, and the girl you love is distant? The legal system is supposed to help you but leaves you unprotected and broken. Andre wants to reclaim his standing with his friends and family. He returns from juvie, and his world has changed. A pandemic has schools and outside places shut down. He hopes his close connection to the Whitaker neighbors, including his long-time crush, Sierra is still intact. However, Sierra’s brother Eric is missing, and the “picture perfect” family is chipping away.
The adoptive parents of the Whitaker children, who are racially diverse, don’t have their stories straight, which is very suspicious. Eric is the only one who seems to have the truth, and Andre is determined to uncover the whole truth surrounding his arrest. But Andre is nearly invisible and doesn’t have much of a voice. He is a Black boy in America getting involved in a dangerous game that can either shake the world or lead him into a corner.
My Thoughts After Reading Invisible Son
There is a lot to unpack in Invisible Son, and it’s so close to home, meaning the current events that happened during 2019-2021 make it a relatable connection on that alone. The protagonist Andre is such a great lens to view all the themes occurring within this YA novel. This is a thriller with loads of social justice, racial awareness, abuse awareness, adoption, protests, and family.
Andre is a young Black man accused of robbery, and he stays silent. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time for a friend who he believed had a good reason for his actions. However, there is more to unpack in this crime than he initially thought, and he is determined to get the full story. Many of these characters show their experiences and perspectives.
The Whitaker family is a prime example of this perspective. Picture a “perfect family” that is very diverse. You have two white parents who have their own children and decide to adopt kids of Black and Hispanic ethnicity. They always look like the progressive family in a movie. However, all of these kids have their own personal demons that rise to the surface as Andre learns more about his case. He peels the layers of the Whitaker parents and siblings, specifically the two adopted siblings, Eric and Sierra.
Andre was really close with siblings Eric and Sierra prior to his arrest and stint in juvenile detention. Eric was his best friend, whose skin was a lighter complexion. His sister Sierra was also his friend and all-time crush. Andre was so focused on the what-ifs about Eric’s disappearance that he didn’t recognize that Eric and Sierra had their own struggles that they never shared. Andre may be right when it comes to his life experience as a young Black and how people treat him, but Eric and Sierra have their own experiences of being in the foster system, having each other’s backs, and different perspectives on what family means.
Invisible Son gives voice to unique lives and tells us that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover because the contents inside may be severe, beautiful, scary, sad, and empowering all at once.
Family is another theme that is heartfelt and moving, especially for Andre. His crime, even though he had nothing to do with it, now changes the way his family sees him. However, his grandparents and mother support him through and through. Andre and his dad’s relationship seems uncertain. Andre just sees his dad as the guy who cares more about his failing bookstore than his own son.
In addition to being back home, he is under house arrest and is only able to go outside in certain areas. So, when the pandemic hits their town, he wants to help his family with responsibilities. He is sick of feeling like a liability or not capable; at least, that’s what he thinks his dad is doing. Andre wants to prove something by staying out of trouble and being invisible, but clearing his name is giving him attention, and maybe that is what he needs to be truly seen.
Social Justice is the center of this book. During Andre’s house arrest, he goes through racial profiling and assumptions in his neighborhood. He did have two allies that shared a similar experience but took two different approaches. The first person is Boogie, Andre’s close friend. Andre can talk to Boogie about more personal things catered to the Black experience because Boogie is very blunt and is also a young Black boy. So he understands the injustice and gives Andre full support and scoldings when he needs them. When he was investigating Eric’s disappearance, Boogie brought different opinions and even played devil’s advocate. He supported Andre and helped him the best way he could. Boogie is a great character not only for having Andre’s back but an example of having the support of someone with a similar background who just knows the true raw experience you have gone through that others may not fathom or ever get to experience.
In addition, Andre’s counselor, Marcus, is a Black man who takes his case and stands up for him. However, even though Marcus is telling him to lay low and giving him some benefits of the doubt, Marcus doesn’t really see Andre for who he is. He may be trying to help Andre, but there have been moments where his job position overshadows everything else.
Insivible Son is a powerful, insightful, and emotional read that teaches young adults to really think about their authentic experiences. It really made me think about my friends’ lives and how they have different experiences in regard to their gender, ethnicity, race, and more. It just goes to show you that you need to take a step back and go into someone else’s shoes. But one important takeaway that I got from reading this book is to stand up for yourself and use your voice.
Invisible Son will be released on June 27th, 2023. If you want to read more of Kim Johnson’s work, try reading This Is My America. Preorder Invisible Son on Penguin Random House.
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