Marley is invisible. Popular kids, teachers, even his old best friend Stanford Wong; they all ignore him. The only kids who pay attention to him are the three bullies who make his life miserable. He has a few friends in the AV club, but they’re not really the friends he wants. When Marley’s life gets too miserable to bear, when the bullies are after him, when he feels like he desperately needs to get away, he runs. The more he runs, the faster he gets. Finally, someone noticed just how fast he is. Will Marley still be invisible? Does he even want to be noticed?
I’ve skimmed through several of Lisa Yee’s middle grade realistic fiction stories, but this one I sat down and read beginning to end. Every time I started to put it down, sure that the author was sliding into stereotypes and a clichéd plot, the story swung around. I like the how Marley is portrayed as an ordinary kid; he’s not a flawless underdog, he hurts his friends’ feelings, gets in fights with his parents, and sometimes just wants to be “normal” and “popular” whatever that is. Marley changes and grows throughout the story, but he’s still Marley at the end. He still doesn’t fit in with the majority of the kids, he still has his odd personality quirks, and he doesn’t get the girl he desperately wants. But that’s ok. The point of the story isn’t about defeating bullies, although Marley does get them to leave him alone through various methods. It’s not about friendship, although Marley learns how to be a better friend. This story is about fitting in with yourself, letting go of the idea that you are a reflection of the people around you, and figuring out who you are and who you want to be.
I did think the eccentric parents were a bit over the top, but they do blend smoothly into the story. The bullies are also given strong characters and don’t just fall into the “guys who have low self-esteem and/or problems with their parents so they hit people.”
Verdict: A strong story about finding a sense of self and breaking out of the expectations and misery of middle school. Recommended.
ISBN: 9780545122764; Published March 2011 by Arthur A. Levine; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2011; Purchased for the library