Jeanne Bannon’s young adult novel Invisible opens with Lola, a teen working at a summer camp. Because she’s self-conscious at 5’10” and just under 200lbs, she’s always watched the campers who don’t want to swim. However, this year there are no such campers, and Lola is forced into a bathing suit and the pool. She laments her hairy legs and untamed bikini area, in addition to her fat body. When Lola hears the other teen camp counselors begin to make fun of her, Lola dips herself under water in shame, hoping to disappear. And then, she does.
In a sense, Invisible is a paranormal novel because it has this extra “magic” element, but no one who wants to read paranormal fiction or fantasy would reach for Bannon’s book, because it’s not really about that. Lola has one good friend and a quartet of dedicated bullies at school. She has a crush on one of them, Jon, who, inexplicably, decides he likes her, too, about a third of the way into the story.
Most young adult novels cover either crushes or saving the world, and Invisible is a crushes book. Not my jam, and I’m starting to rethink if I should keep reading YA in my quest to find books starring fat women and girls who don’t diet or date their way to happiness. In general, I’m bored by the lack of complexity in the character’s lives simply because YA books were not written with me in mind as the audience. Then again, I know crushes and a bestie weren’t my whole world when I was a teen so, I’m not sure if I’ve lowered my standards for what a teen protagonist can be.
The huge issue with Invisible is the way it reinforces heteronormative behaviors. Once the bully-turned-Romeo shows interest in Lola, she shaves her legs, has her sister in beauty school do full face makeup on her, buys dresses, and starts “improving” herself by losing weight for Jon.
“You’re the smartest girl I know, and I wish you could see what I see.” A smile wanted to blossom on my lips, but I would have been happier if [Jon had] said I was the most beautiful girl he knew.
It’s like reading a teen girl performing straight, cis, able-bodied femininity based on what men and society have taught her, and it feels gross. Lola is celebrated for her “improvements” and never fails to comment “I was more of a girl than I’d thought” while getting the warm and fuzzies over how loose her jeans are.
Although Lola’s height and weight are mentioned only once, it was hard for me to understand all the fatphobic comments she receives. Look up images of women who are 5’10” and just under 200lbs and you’ll find photos of very average-sized people. In this way Bannon, not a fat person, tattles on herself. Like many straight-size individuals, Bannon suggests 5-10 pounds larger than an “ideal” dieting weight calls for mooing and cries of “lard ass” because getting fat is unforgivable. In Bannon’s attempt to write a fat character with dignity, her book shines a white-hot light on how lightly women and girls can tread outside of “acceptable” before they are ostracized and physically beaten then rewarded with attention from crushes, friends, and family after compliance is met.