When We Are Invisible

Series: The Sky So Heavy
Publication Date: 30 Mar. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9780702263132

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    Instinct has kept us alive so far. It's like a compass and I tune in to the needle often--trust/don't trust, run/stay... I can't read the needle right now. The warmth of the room is clouding my judgment.

    In the midst of a nuclear winter, Lucy, Fin and Max flee the chaos of Sydney with blood on their clothes, a gun and handwritten directions to safety. When they reach Wattlewood, it seems like their struggle to survive might be over. There is food, warmth and adults in charge. So why can't Lucy shake the feeling they're still in danger?

    Lucy's survived the apocalypse, but can she escape a more insidious threat?

    Information

    Book Type: Senior High
    Age Group: 15 years +
    Traffic Lights: Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 4.5/5
    Literary Rating: 4.5/5

    Review

    Following the apocalyptic events described in the previous book--The Sky So Heavy--Australia is now in a nuclear winter.

    Lucy, Fin and Max are heading to Wattlewood Recreation Centre, having been given the address by Jeff Effrez, an old teacher who had done all he could to help them on their way. His daughter, Esther, is at the Centre and he is sure they will be welcomed there.

    The Centre is a settlement established initially by analysts who could see what was coming. They prepared for the apocalypse while almost everyone else lived their lives as usual.

    Despite Mr Effrez's hopes, their arrival doesn't result in the welcome they were expecting. Following a very assertive response, the self-appointed leader--Jaxon--says they can stay for one month and then they will review the situation. Esther Effrez is there, but she is very close to Jaxon. Jaxon is ex-army, and Lucy doesn't feel safe around him, but can't quite work out why.

    Fin is protective of Lucy, but in a way that doesn't help. She hates feeling vulnerable: feeling like she needs a man to protect her from other men. It's hard for Fin to understand what it is like to know that you are constantly in danger and--in some instances--unlikely to be able to protect yourself.

    When a woman called Sarah and her daughter Polly arrive at the gate of the compound, starving and without water, the guards won't let them in. Lucy wants to help them but Fin not so much. He used to help everyone, but now--under Jaxon's influence--he's confused about what being a good guy really means.

    Jaxon and Tom go looking for Sarah and Polly, but return separately and alone. Jaxon is injured and tells them that Sarah tried to kill him. As a consequence he puts the compound into lockdown. After a few days, he sends Tom and Lucy out to hunt for food. During their hunt, Tom is shot but they don't know who by. With Lucy's help he makes it back but it was touch-and-go.

    On their return, Jaxon is furious with her for a prior incident where she stood up against him and Raahel (one of the other women), tells her she must cry and apologise. It is the only way to de-escalate the situation. Initially she refuses to, but seeing the fury in his eyes, she soon capitulates. It seems to be the only way to stay safe from his violent anger. She feels humiliated--like a helpless little girl, in the hands of a big scary man.

    Lucy realises that Jaxon is an abusive and controlling person with a hero complex. She wants to tell the others but can't pin his behaviour down to something tangible. He lied to Esther, telling her that Lucy was jealous and trying to get his attention, so that Esther wouldn't listen to anything Lucy said. Eventually--with Raahel's help--Lucy talks Esther into leaving with her and going to find her dad.

    Within 30 minutes of leaving the complex, Lucy's phone pings. She can't comprehend how that could be, given there has been no phone service, electricity or other technology since the attack. There's a message from her older sister Penelope (aka Bit) who she hasn't seen since the morning before the missiles fell.

    Esther manages to ring her father and to her surprise, Libby--Fin's mother--answers. She tells Lucy that her mum is alive but her dad and sister didn't make it. Libby is with Jeff, Esther's father, who is alive, but badly injured.

    Libby and Jeff had gone to the compound to tell them the electricity was back on, but Jaxon chased them off, telling them Esther had never arrived, that he had never heard of Lucy, and that he'll kill them if they come back. But Jeff can't give up. Certain that Esther is in there, he returns. Jaxon shoots him, and his wound gets badly infected.

    Jeff desperately needs penicillin, and the only way they can get it is by going back to the compound. They hatch a plan for Lucy and Esther to return and pretend they have been out hunting, all apologetic and shamed for having disobeyed Jaxon, while Libby and Jeff drive there in the car. Lucy will arrange for Fin to let them in, then everyone will find out what a monster Jaxon really is.

    But Jaxon is one step ahead, and meets them on the road, quickly disarming the two girls. He takes them back to the camp, but Esther isn't about to let him win once more. She has a gun he doesn't know about, and threatens him with it. He thinks she'll never go through with it, but he's wrong--she shoots him in the hand. When the others hear the shot they come running out, and the girls tell them the truth about Jaxon and what he has done. Rob doesn't want to believe them, until he finds out that Jaxon was never a soldier, had never been to Iraq--it was all lies.

    "... [Jaxon] wanted to be the hero without knowing that the hero is the last person anyone should want to be--because they have the hardest job and have to live with it forever" (p. 294)

    When Libby arrives, and tells them that Jeff didn't make it, Fin loses it. He wants to kill Jaxon. But Lucy knows what it is like to live with something like that hanging over you (having probably killed someone in the previous book in order to save Fin's life) and stops him. She doesn't want him to live with the same awful memories that she has.

    Jaxon runs, and with him gone, the community is able to start healing, and to reach out to those that he had refused to help ...

    This sequel to the apocalyptic novel, The Sky So Heavy, is somewhat unexpected. While it is set in the aftermath of the previous book, it is essentially an in-depth look at coercive control. It shows the impact on victims (and the ways the perpetrators 'prepare' them to take the abuse), as well as the reality that even those who see it may not stand up to it, something they must do if the victims are ever going to be free. As is always the case with Claire Zorn, who is an incredibly gifted writer, this is a masterfully crafted and powerful book for older teens.

    Claire has dedicated the book to "every woman or girl who has ever been abused, gaslit, intimidated and controlled by their current or former partner". As well as being a worthwhile read, this is a book that may cause readers to stop and think about their own actions, the actions of those around them, and identify whether they may themselves be a victim, a perpetrator, or a bystander.

    Favourite quote: "An act of violence is like a moment of punctuation between oneself and another. You used to be someone who couldn't do something like that. Now you are someone who can. Who did. And who might again. At least that's how it was for me." (p. 3)

    Themes

    violence, war, societal collapse, oppression of women, abuse, heroism, guilt, coercive control

    Content Notes

    1. Language: shit x 22, 'frig' x 7, f**k x 14, bloody x 15, bitch x 13, dick x 6, bugger x 2. 2. Lucy's sister Bit had been out of hospital for two years, after treatment for a severe eating disorder. Lucy has a flashback to the rape that drove Penelope down a road of self-destruction, something that Lucy only became aware of in the aftermath. Lucy recalls seeing the blood on her underwear and the light gone from her eyes (p. 71-4). She later reflects on how her sister must have felt trapped in her attacker's car, "the bruises on her skin like petals of a dark flower. It wasn't your fault, my darling, beautiful sister. It wasn't your fault." (p. 226-7). 3. After the violence he has witnessed, Max is traumatised, dehydrated and malnourished, but even when they finally have food, he struggles to eat it. In his mind, there is no point. 4. Tom refers to having found two of their people dead and having to bury them (no description), p112. 5. Great discussion about how Noll was full of grace towards those he 'should have hated', p76-77. Powerful commentary on the challenges and expectations girls face, or that were faced by women not that long ago, p89-90. 6. Hunting, skinning and butchering animals for meat (p. 120). 6. Fin kisses Lucy (p. 153-5). Lucy removes her top, she is wearing jeans and a bra. Fin removes his top. They are passionately kissing (p. 165) until Lucy has a flashback to her sister, post-rape, and freezes. 7. Fin describes watching and holding Noll as he died from bullet wounds (p. 199). Matt, a soldier, shot himself, after killing the army officer guarding the fuel they so desperately needed. He couldn't live with the knowledge that he had taken someone's life (p. 6-7, 46-7).

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