Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Review: "The Unseen World" by Liz Moore

For Ada Sibelius, the center of her universe was her scientist father, David. He raised her on his own, homeschooling her, and every day he took her with him to his job, where he directed a computer science lab at the Boston Institute of Technology. David treated Ada like an adult, encouraging her to learn as much about the lab's work as she could, interact with his employees and graduate students, and develop her own theories about the work he was doing, trying to create a computer truly capable of social interaction with humans.

But as much as she loves every minute spent with her father, both in the lab and on the trips they take each year, at times Ada wishes she were a "normal" 13-year-old, with friends and perhaps even a boy to be interested in her. As that longing grows, David's mind starts to fail, and it isn't long before Ada must move in with David's most trusted employee and her three sons, and go to a "real" school for the first time in her life. She doesn't know how to act or what to do, and most of all, she misses her father and her days in the lab.

As if the teenage years weren't awkward enough for Ada, it suddenly comes to light that David might not have been who he said he was. What do you do when everything you've been taught, everything you believe about your life and the way you were raised is called into question? What does that mean for who you are, and how do you figure out what is true and what isn't? Ada must try and make sense of all of this upheaval in her life, while still struggling with her father's declining health.

Ada is determined to uncover the truth about her father's identity. Spanning from the 1980s to the distant future, as well as reaching back into the 1940s and 1950s, The Unseen World follows Ada well into adulthood, as she tries to understand the mysteries her father left behind, and how that affected their relationship and her ability to connect with others. The book also follows David's work, starting from a primitive system on an early computer into the sophisticated gadgetry of the future.

This is a beautifully written, poignant book, about a young woman whose life is utterly turned upside down when everything she had believed in is called into question. It's a book about identity—where and when it matters and does not—and about the sacrifices some people made in order to live "normal" lives. It's also a book about the unknown and the unsaid, and how both transform us when we least expect it.

While at times the book gets into a little more detail around computer science and virtual reality than I would have liked, at its core, it's a moving, well-told story. Ada is a special character and you really feel her heart while reading this book, and I found David pretty fascinating as well. The shifting of time periods was a little distracting to the flow of the story, but I still couldn't stop reading it, because I wanted to know where Liz Moore would take her characters. And of course, sap that I am, there was more than one occasion where I found myself a little teary-eyed.

Moore's previous novel, Heft, was pretty dazzling, so I had high expectations for The Unseen World. She didn't disappoint, creating another memorable, emotional, wonderful book worth reading.

NetGalley and W.W. Norton & Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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