Tue
May 21 2013 10:45am

Fresh Meat: Transparent by Natalie Whipple

Transparent by Natalie Whipple is a debut young adult novel with paranormal elements, including an invisible protagonist (available May 21, 2013).

Fiona was born into one of the largest crime syndicates in the country. Her father runs drugs, steals his millions, and murders whoever gets in his way. When Fiona is born, he sees his chance to become the most powerful man in the world. Because Fiona was born with a special gift.

She’s invisible.

Fiona does anything her father asks, partly because he’s her father and partly because he has his own special gift: he’s a Charmer who can make any woman fall in love with him. At first this means picking pockets—which she learned to do when she was just seven years old. Then she graduates to robbery. Then spying on rival crime syndicates. However, her daddy has an endgame in mind for Fiona.

Assassin.

Transparent, Natalie Whipple’s debut novel, has been heralded as X-Men meets The Godfather, and there are certainly elements of both in this story. A bunch of genetic mutations entered the human population during the Cold War via radiation in this alternative history line. The result was pheromones gone wild. Telekinesis. Flying. And, apparently, invisibility.

Fiona’s “talent” creates a whole mess of concerns, and the criminal issues are only the beginning. Sure, she’s an awesome thief. She’d probably be a pretty good assassin too. But despite her upbringing, she also has morals. The only reason she does what her father asks is because she’s looking for someone to love her for her, and not for her ability—which she really has no control over.

There’s a poignancy to Fiona’s invisibility that Whipple coaxes out in several places. Here is a girl who has never seen her own face. She has no idea what color her hair is. Or her eyes. She wears the latest fashions because, if no one can see your face, they may as well look at great clothes. But even shopping for clothes with mom has a downside:

We’d shop for hours at the most expensive places in Vegas. It’s the only normal thing we’ve ever really done together.

I used to like it. I used to think we were bonding like moms and daughters do. She would clap or smile when I came out of the dressing room, and it made me feel beautiful. But then I started to notice something.

“Those clothes look great!” she’d say.

Not you look great. Not you look beautiful. The clothes did—I didn’t look like anything.

Fiona’s mother is the one who pulls her out of the crime syndicate to hide in a small Arizona town. Fiona, however, is unimpressed with her mother’s sacrifice, because she’s been through it all before. Jonas—Fiona’s father—always manages to get them back. Despite her mother getting a real job and enrolling Fiona in the local high school, she doubts they’ll be out of the syndicate’s grip for long.

Because she doesn’t think their escape is permanent, Fiona doesn’t let herself get close to her classmates easily. When Bea, a too-pretty classmate with a talent for throwing her voice, tries to befriend her, Fiona reacts with suspicion:

“Why?”

She tilts her head. “Huh?”

“Why are you being nice to me? Are you working for someone? Or do you want in with our syndicate? Either way, I’m not interested. Sorry.” I turn to walk away but she gets in my face.

“Are you freaking kidding me?” She’s too close to me, so close I can smell her mint gum. “You didn’t even consider that maybe I thought you needed a friend—that maybe I need a friend?”

My throat tightens, and I don’t dare speak for fear I might sound more upset than I’d like.

Whipple manages to make Fiona both prickly and likeable at the same time. Fiona has a unique take on life and faces some truly tough challenges—and it’s interesting that some of those challenges are obstacles she’s put in her own way. She questions everyone’s motives. In the world that Whipple has created, questioning is probably a necessary survival skill…but it certainly doesn’t help make life enjoyable.

There’s real pain in this story—familial, personal, and supernatural—as well as real hope. Friendship. Love. And, again, family. As Fiona battles both herself and the threats from her old criminal world, she manages to find her own strength. In her fight to avoid being used for her ability, she learns to use her ability and see herself for who she really is.

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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

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