I review When I Was Invisible by the incredibly talented Dorothy Koomson for the Lovereading.co.uk review panel.
‘Do you ever wonder if you’ve lived the life you were meant to?’ I ask her.
She sighs, and dips her head. ‘Even if I do, what difference will it make?’
In 1988, two eight-year-old girls with almost identical names and the same love of ballet meet for the first time. They seem destined to be best friends forever and to become professional dancers. Years later, however, they have both been dealt so many cruel blows that they walk away from each other into very different futures – one enters a convent, the other becomes a minor celebrity. Will these new, ‘invisible’ lives be the ones they were meant to live, or will they only find that kind of salvation when they are reunited twenty years later?
As a rule, I tend to struggle with modern fiction. I like to slip into books, away from the world we live in, and so when I read about Facebook or iPods, I cringe a little bit. Some authors really struggle to recreate the modern world in fiction, but not Koomson. It’s as if she captures everything as she goes along, like a photographer, and manages to turn it into a story into which any of us could slide. If I had to use two words to describe Koomson’s books, they would be ‘haunting’ and ‘real’.
Veronica Harper and Veronika Harper – known as Roni and Nika respectively – have more in common than their name. They sit together at school, start attending ballet lessons together, and then experience a horrific experience together, which splits them apart. Their lives may seem as different as they could be, but Roni and Nika are bound by the horrors inflicted upon them when they were children, and, to make things right, they have to find each other again.
Koomson always tackles current issues, and When I Was Invisible is no different. Sexual assault, homelessness, abuse… She doesn’t shy away from anything, and quite right, too. Such issues affect us all, and reading about how Koomson’s characters overcome their fears is powerful; it can inspire those of us who have gone through similar things to do the same. When I Was Invisible is, ultimately, a story of friendship and kindness to oneself. Learning to forgive ourselves is one of the hardest things we can ever do, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to ever move forward after trauma. This is a lesson I’ve learnt myself, and I imagine many others can say the same. There are pieces of us hidden between the lines of Koomson’s stories; that’s what makes them so beautiful, and so tragic. We turn to fiction to escape, but in Koomson’s work, we find ourselves.
When I Was Invisible is due out next month, and is highly recommended by The Bandwagon.