Book Title: Evidence of Things Not Seen (Standalone)
Author: Lindsey Lane
Number of pages: 224
When high school junior Tommy Smythe goes missing, everyone has a theory about what happened to him. Tommy was adopted, so maybe he ran away to find his birth parents. He was an odd kid, often deeply involved in his own thoughts about particle physics, so maybe he just got distracted and wandered off. He was last seen at a pull-out off the highway, so maybe someone drove up and snatched him. Or maybe he slipped into a parallel universe. Tommy believes that everything is possible, and that until something can be proven false, it is possibly true. So as long as Tommy’s whereabouts are undetermined, he could literally be anywhere.
Told in a series of first-person narratives from people who knew Tommy and third-person chapters about people who find the things Tommy left behind—his red motorbike, his driving goggles, pages from his notebook—Particles explores themes of loneliness, connectedness, and the role we play in creating our own realities.
(re: Goodreads @ Evidence of Things Not Seen by Lindsey Lane)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
– Open, interpretative narratives about the realities of life masked behind the mystery of Tommy’s disappearance. Some are coming-of-age stories with limited scope, others are charming tales of family, but they’re all uniquely independent lives with tangible difficulties
– Twenty very different narrators joined by the six-degrees of separation to Tommy Smythe; reads like a collection of short stories
– A quick, well-paced read despite a variety of darker societal issues that may not be explored in much depth (i.e. child and teenage sexuality, mental health disabilities, science versus religion, murder, physical and substance abuse)
I’m stumped as to how to go about saying anything about this novel. It’s different; twenty POVs different, and there’s a certain disjointed connectedness (wait, that doesn’t even make sense does it?) about this read that’s mind-bogglingly weird and interesting at the same time.
Also, I just reviewed the synopsis and I’m confused as to whether or not there’s supposed to be a name change or not (re: Particles, in the last paragraph).
Full disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of Evidence of Things Not Seen through Netgalley for an honest review. I extend thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) under Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for providing me the opportunity to review this book.
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
This book makes a lot more sense if you can throw away the preconceived storytelling mechanics and just read it for what [I think] it is: a collection of short stories. And as much mystery as the synopsis generates, this read is not like playing Cluedo (or game of Clue) in respect to a murder-mystery. Yes, I’ll credit the fact that this random kid, Tommy Smythe, has spurred the attention of his town by mystifyingly evaporating his metaphysical presence, and without his existence, perhaps all the characters would have led different lives. So thanks for disappearing, I guess. But as much as this novel drives the thought that all possibilities exist until one is observed, it’s in essence a story about the realities of life and the very different (and very possible) tangents created by the mysteriousness that surrounds just being and just living. It’s not exactly a layered novel with groundbreaking commentary and compelling characters to expose a harsh truth in the world. Reading Lane’s Evidence of Things Not Seen is like taking a Polaroid image without knowing what the end result will look like. It considers knowing and not knowing at the same time and just running with what you have because that’s the best chance at truth as you’ll ever get.
So knowing that it’s a collection of short stories, is there a true storyline to grab hold of? Yes and no.
Tommy Smythe is missing, lost, dead, alive, safe, facing dangers, enjoying life, stepped into a parallel universe—all valid possibilities—and it’s the only shred of mysterious conflict (and truth) moving the plot along (note: I’m using the word plot very loosely). What happened to him is one singular event in a universe full of variances but this novel isn’t about the why or the how as much as it is to own up the saying “it is what it is”. It’s about everyone else and how life doesn’t really stop when shit happens. It follows a linear account (in timeline only) of twenty very different individuals with their own worries which highlight aspects of the past that may influence their next foot forward. These narrators are Tommy’s family, his mates at school, the townies, immigrants; basically, any mentioned individual in the story is [somehow] tied to Tommy based upon the six degrees of separation. They may have never met the kid but life is much bigger than what we see inwardly or within arms-reach, and the characters find themselves becoming tied to Tommy Smythe’s story. And that’s all I can really say.
As mentioned before, there are twenty differing minds you’ll enter; some are simply responding to the Sheriffs inquiries (for which you actually never read what the Sherriff says—you only see each character’s reply) and some are simply anecdotally living their life (of which it’s so convenient that some semblance of Tommy passes by). The narrative doesn’t follow a pattern between first-person and third person limited or omniscient and I wasn’t too bothered by the quick changes in this fairly well-paced read that spans a year in time through a variety of occupational positions.
This border Texan town sure does feel tiny; especially if their propensity as a society to move forward is being challenged by a missing teenager. Yet despite its small sample size of a population, the narratives are rife with issues not limited by the age of its narrators. However, this doesn’t mean that they were written with meticulous grit any more than just a simple nod to each societal problem that might actually be in the culture of the Texan lifestyle (I guess I’ll never know without research). There’s talk of incestual sex and rape, murder, alternative family, loss and grief, child-and-adult prostitution, substance and physical abuse, suicide, mental health disabilities, immigration, and the holy trinity of philosophical, religious and scientific argumentation.
Uhhhh, wait, I just remembered: this is also marketed as a children’s book.
Sure, it only mentions each topic on a very superficial level but man I’m not sure how equipped young-adults are (despite increasing resilience) to be able to handle such a foray into these gray areas of realistic, contemporary writing. Some of these inclusions didn’t read as if they added much value other than to just smack the reader in the face (once, hopefully) as a heads-up to say that this is a very possible thing; to form commentary based upon the marginalization of the worth females and likewise discrediting males to be dominant sexual fiends. Of course, this isn’t the case with all the female/male narrators but it’s worth mentioning that this perspective is taken into consideration more than once.
Here’s where I would normally cut open a character and talk nonsense about why XYZ did ABC. But see, I can’t do that because I was only given a small timeslot of their life to gauge, and so character growth isn’t really on the table to analyze. What I can say is that there are many interpretive outlets for each character to visualize their potential for growth (that sounds perplexing, doesn’t it?).
Separating each chapter [in writing] is a page out of his Tommy’s notebook and pseudo-journal that doubles as both an introduction (and ending?) to each narrator as well as some insight into Tommy’s actual voice. The reason why I say that it could be either an introduction or an ending is because when I first started reading it, I was honestly confused as to whether or not it preceded or followed a narrator. But aside from my confusion, the passages are assumed to have found their way to each narrator to spark some innate character development; even if it was just a passing thought. But here’s the catch: it’s possible that the ideas scrawled on each scrap paper is a symbolic ideation of what could be thought by narrators and readers alike. It’s the unproven possibilities that are out there (albeit penned with the creative mentality of Tommy Smythe) that are dauntingly metaphorical, potentially a thinker, but definitely considerations to push characters to grow from their own difficulties.
Have you noticed I’m having a hard time articulating my thoughts? This is an interesting read. It’s different, isn’t really straight-forward, and doesn’t feel like the “plot” goes anywhere (and if it does it’s simply just realizations being made). But perhaps that’s the point. With limited finality and no concrete resolution, this contemporary novel is more-or-less one of those thinkers. Yet if that’s the case, it’s a big hit and miss for me. There’s a lot going on in terms of themes but they’re often superficially portrayed and glossed over as there’s no real substance to support it. It’s as if the red flags are raised but then once presented…that’s it, donezo; the reader has to deal with it. By the same measure, there are moments which simply add question marks to characters in discrediting their narrative legitimacy and reliability; but this might tangent into the realm of thought-provoking content.
A possible comment to inspire debate is that this novel is rooted in mental health awareness. There’s a passage in the novel that basically trumps the idea of categorically identifying and stigmatizing different and quirky kids to say that such individuals are very much part of our society as you or I (and there was no concrete evidence to suggest otherwise, even if signs are there). And with the main protagonist in question being attributed to a disability (Asperger’s, is what I’d like to think), you really start to wonder the extent to which as a community, how passive or active of a role should be taken as a preventative measure (if at all?). Of course, this is just one of many variants in questions that come up–and I certainly don’t have the answers to any of them.
It’s incredibly difficult to say whether or not anything actually happens in some tangible way—so if you can’t get over the fact that nothing may happen, then this book might not be for you. I have mixed feelings in this regard. Props to Lindsey Lane on her debut novel but I think I’m just perplexed as to how to truly engage this read. If there’s one thing I’m taking away from this experience though, it’s that I’m reaffirmed that despite life being crazy and mysterious and all sorts of weird, how differently you look at understanding the possibilities of the world is just in the nature of life itself. And tomorrow is [still] tomorrow; and life goes on.
And so I end this review with how the novel began, an epigraph:
“We leave pieces of ourselves everywhere. Every time we meet someone, they take some of us and we take some of them. That’s how it is. Little particles stick us together. Bit by bit. I think it’s how we get whole.” – On a piece of notebook paper found on the side of US 281
// end of review
I wonder if I even articulated a large portion of this review properly. This read had me going “whaaaaat?” a lot. Anyways, if you made it this far: happy reading.