Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Invisible Emmie cover


Goodreads: Invisible Emmie
Series: currently has two companion novels
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2017


Emmie is invisible.  Afraid to speak up or have anyone notice her, she goes through her days hiding in her sketchbook.  Then an embarrassing note to her crush starts getting passed around school and, suddenly, everyone seems to know who she is.  Will Emmie find the courage to defend herself?

Star Divider


Invisible Emmie proves an uneven addition to the number of middle-school graphic novels currently on the market.  Clearly inspired by Diary of Wimpy Kid (published ten years prior), Invisible Emmie attempts to provide humor by making fun of middle-school stereotypes, even as protagonist Emmie struggles herself with trying to fit in and survive bullying.  Emmie’s mockery of her fellow classmates ultimately makes her less of a likable–or relatable–protagonist than she is supposed to be, taking away power from her story.

Invisible Emmie is initially interesting because it seeks to put a twist on the trope of the outsider protagonist, as Emmie herself notes.  She is not an outsider because awkward or weird or anything.  She’s an outsider because she’s quiet.  So quiet no one ever notices her.  As a result, she does not believe she could ever be a heroine in a story.  She’s so ordinary, she’s forgettable. I had hopes this would be a story about Emmie finding her way, not by discovering an amazing, hidden talent, but just by being herself.

Unfortunately, Emmie positions herself as a normal, relatable character by making it clear that others in her school are not normal.  She makes fun of them for being weird or smelly or having acne or having a “disability,” which she tries to make seem less horrible by then describing a “math disability” (that is, the kid just struggles in math–he, does not, as far as we know, actually have a learning disability).  This is all incredibly off-putting.  Emmie censures the school bully for making fun of others, but she does, too.  Her only redeeming quality is that she keeps her unkind thoughts private instead of taunting kids to their faces.  Still, she comes across as a female Greg Heffley, trying to be funny with her “witty” observations of middle-school life, but ultimately just coming across as mean.

After this awkward introduction, the story does improve.  Emmie still points out the kids who smell or who spit or who do other things readers are supposed to think are amusingly “so middle-school.”  But the book starts to focus more on Emmie’s reticence, her fear of being seen, of speaking up for herself.  Her story intertwines with that of Katie, a popular, self-confident girl beloved by all.  Emmie wants to be Katie.  But she has to find her own way.

Invisible Emmie will likely appeal to readers who also felt invisible, who wished others could see them as they are, could be their friends.  It’s just a shame it has to begin with mean-spirited stereotypes of middle-school kids.  Fortunately, readers looking for graphic novels about surviving middle school have better options: Victoria Jamieson, Jerry Craft, Raina Telgemeier, and Svetlana Chmakova, to name only a few.

3 Stars

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