YA author Sara Shepard enters the adult realm in The Visibles: A Novel, a story of a young woman navigating family and fate.
The main theme of YA author Sara Shepard’s first “adult” novel is the relationship between nature and nurture—in particular, the way DNA can affect family life. Summer Davis, a young woman coming of age in a family slowly coming apart, is haunted by the possibility raised by one of her science teachers that her DNA is a permanent, invisible tether between herself and her parents. This possibility sustains—or perhaps inspires—her as she becomes her father’s main caretaker after her mother leaves and he succumbs to depression. The Visibles traces the way a child, thrust into this trying situation, both rises to the challenge but is also damaged by the process, becoming an adult who herself has difficulty navigating relationships. In doing so, Shepard stays well within the traditional realm of young-adult fiction but allows the story to mature as her narrator does.
The most interesting part of the novel, however, comes not from Summer’s perspective but from her father’s. Excerpts from letters he’s written to lost lovers, absent family members, and his estranged wife appear occasionally throughout the story, the voice in these letters always haunted by a sense of wonder that seems to hover precariously on the edge of sanity. Unfortunately, Summer’s more ordinary voice never reaches this sense of lyricism, and the novel feels rushed to its conclusion. But much like her father, Summer comes to understand, as he writes in one of his letters: “We are the worst of ourselves and also the best.”