“Invisible Son” Review

The cover is blue with streaks of purple and red. The face of a black teen is on the front with short black hair and headphones around his neck. His shoulders are seen but part of the blue of the cover. Written by Kim Johnson
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers, June 2023
416 pages
Completed September 18, 2023

Life can change in an instant.
When you’re wrongfully accused of a crime.
When a virus shuts everything down.
When the girl you love moves on.

Andre Jackson is determined to reclaim his identity. But returning from juvie doesn’t feel like coming home. His Portland, Oregon, neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying, and COVID-19 shuts down school before he can return. And Andre’s suspicions about his arrest for a crime he didn’t commit even taint his friendships. It’s as if his whole life has been erased.

The one thing Andre is counting on is his relationship with the Whitaker kids—especially his longtime crush, Sierra. But Sierra’s brother Eric is missing, and the facts don’t add up as their adoptive parents fight to keep up the act that their racially diverse family is picture-perfect. If Andre can find Eric, he just might uncover the truth about his own arrest. But in a world where power is held by a few and Andre is nearly invisible, searching for the truth is a dangerous game.

This book deals with a lot due to the book starting in February 2020 and going through the summer to August. COVID, the murder of George Floyd, and the protests that took place in the aftermath all take place as Andre is trying to find Eric. I don’t want to spoil too much but since it’s the first year of COVID a lot happens because of that along with everything else. There’s a scene where Andre is eating some Ramen noodles and complains they’re too bland. Any reader who’s familiar with the symptoms of COVID will recognize that moment for what it is.

The crime Andre went away for is entirely someone else’s and the answers to why he was framed are all to realistic and simple considering who he’s dealing with. There’s a lot said about racism and the differences in how Black and Brown people are treated by the police and society and also the different outcomes for marginalized groups dealing with COVID along with everything else. I’m glad I read this book. I don’t want to ever get so comfortable in my own situation that I forget what others have dealt with and continue to deal with. This is definitely a book every white person should read. (That said if you’re currently dealing with ongoing issues from having had COVID and/or lost family members to COVID you may wish to avoid this book for that reason.)

As hard as it was I really enjoyed reading this book. Andre is a great characters and he has family and friends he can depend on. The family across the street was complicated but the kids are a good group of individuals who are finding their way. The ending is bittersweet – Andre is free at least, and there’s hope for the future, but his world is forever changed.