Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible, by Ross Welford

Staff review by Chris Saliba

British children's author Ross Welford has turned out a fine follow-up to his debut novel, Time Travelling with a Hamster.

Like any 12-year-old, Ethel Leatherhead has her share of problems, the most pressing of which is her acne. It's not terrible, but visible enough for her to cop being called 'pizza face' at school. Desperate to get rid of the acne Ethel is willing to try all sorts of strange remedies.

One supposed cure is to lay under a tanning salon sunbed. When a local salon goes bust after a price war with a competitor, Ethel picks up a free sunbed. The sunbed apparently fails some of the required safety regulations, can't be re-sold and hence could be a bit dodgy. Not to worry, Ethel is willing to give anything a go, come what may. Another supposed cure that Ethel has been experimenting with is some sort of weird tea that she bought off a Chinese internet site. The product is called Dr Chang His Skin So Clear. When Ethel decides to take a larger than recommended dose of His Skin So Clear, combined with a lengthy session on the tanning bed, something very strange happens. Ethel becomes invisible!

Things go from bad to worse when the ungainly and uncouth Elliot Boyd finds out. He's a bit of a school outsider - slightly chubby and quite geeky. The gossip on the school yard is that he smells, but Ethel can soon confirm that he actually doesn't smell bad at all. The two begin an unlikely friendship that leads to all sorts of adventures, the most dramatic of which is Ethel finding out some earth shattering secrets about her mother, who died when she was only three.

Ross Welford gets a complicated mix of character, adventure, humour and bizarre inexplicable events just right in What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible. Ethel's candid first person narration of her unusual troubles is funny and delightful. She always has the right quip at the right time. Her unlikely friend, Elliot Boyd, is wonderful fun. He's a square peg in a round hole, but his honesty and goofiness will win your heart. Ethel's grandmother, Gram, adds just the right touch of British stiff-upper-lip comedy to balance out the younger characters. She's almost like something eccentric out of a Barbara Pym novel. Her lists of things 'common' and 'frightfully common' will keep you chuckling.

There's plenty to enjoy in this funny, slightly zany story that also has a special message about identity and the importance of family.

What Not to Do If You Turn Invisible, by Ross Welford. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN: 9780008156350  RRP: $14.99

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