Book Review: ‘What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible’ by Ross Welford

Author: Ross Welford

Originally published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2017

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Set in the Tynemouth and Whitley Bay area of the north-east of England, thirteen year old Ethel Leatherhead desperately tries to find a cure for her acne. An accidental combination of methods causes a startled Ethel to turn invisible. The invisibility proves to be temporary but that doesn’t stop Ethel from trying again, convinced that being invisible will solve all her problems.

From the title alone I had expected a comedy novel full of hi-jinks and amusing anecdotes. While there are light-hearted moments, such as when Ethel pretends to be a ghost to avoid being detected by a classmate, author Ross Welford creates a much deeper and more complex plot about the struggles of family, friendship, secrets and lies, and the struggles of navigating teenage life at secondary school.

At its heart What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible is a story about self discovery, about finding out what sort of person you really are. In the literal sense, Ethel must slowly decipher the secrets her grandmother is keeping about her parents – where is her father? And is there a connection between her mother and a famous singer? – thus learning more about where Ethel herself came from. While Welford uses invisibility as a device to put Ethel in unusual situations it also has another purpose. Her invisibility is used as an escapism. It allows Ethel to avoid the bullying comments about her appearance at school and to even escape from her acne-covered skin for a few hours, however Ethel is later presented with the opportunity to completely flip this concept around and use her invisibility to help her friend.

I often sensed that as a reader I was being asked to think about what I would do if I were faced with Ethel’s dilemmas. Ethel is frequently presented with two options – the easy way and the hard way. For example when she hurts her friend Boyd’s feelings to save her own reputation Ethel must choose between looking after herself or boosting Boyd’s social standing at school at the risk of exposing her invisibility. As a reader you ask yourself just how far you would go to help a friend.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the novel was the realistic voice of Ethel’s narration. Written in first person, it really feels as though when Ethel is telling her story she is speaking directly to the reader like a friend. The beginning of What Not to Do… is not told chronologically, instead the story stops and starts as Ethel remembers things she has previously forgotten to mention. It is an effective tool that mimics real speech. Welford also plays around with different fonts and frequently includes lists to organise Ethel’s thoughts and plans. The lists sometimes feel overused but Welford is at least consisted in their placement throughout the book. However the result is a novel that visually stands out.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible is an enjoyable novel full of mystery, twists and turns, and the bonds between family and friends.

This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in February 2017

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