Fiction That Opens a Door

In Wonders of the Invisible World, seventeen-year-old Aidan Lockwood is drawn into a generations-old conflict, in which he discovers his secret family history, an unseen spirit world, and unexpected love with another boy.

By Christopher Barzak

barzak-wondersWhen I was a teenager, I had a hard time finding myself in books. By that I mean that, in so many of the novels and short stories I read, I couldn’t find characters that were like me in several specific ways. Queer, rural, from a working class family. Sometimes I’d come across a character that displayed one or occasionally two of those character facets (generally rural and working class), but I couldn’t find characters that embodied all of these at once. It all resulted in making me feel invisible, to some extent. Unseen. Unseeable. Ungettable: maybe even to myself.

Because, don’t get me wrong here, I wasn’t consciously looking for myself in fiction. That’s a largely unconscious drive that I think motivates a lot of readers of fiction. When people say they can’t relate to a character, I sometimes think what they mean is that the characters presented in a story didn’t have lives or experiences that resemble their own. Fiction read in this way seems like a narcissistic activity: the reader looking to find his or her own image in the reflecting pool of literature. And fiction read in this way can also seem, on the surface, to be at cross-purposes to what reading fiction is supposed to do, which is to open the reader up to the lives and experiences of people who are unlike them, in order to grow more aware and to develop a broader scope of compassion.

However, for a young person, finding themselves in a novel can be the first encounter they have with facets of themselves that begin to explain why they feel the way they do about anything. For me, it wasn’t until I was in college that I was able to find characters in books and films that didn’t necessarily reflect myself so much as open a door into unexplored parts of myself. And walking through that door allowed me to discover the full shape of who I was, and who I’ve become.

In Wonders of the Invisible World, I wanted to create a character who doesn’t know himself, but who goes on a journey of self-discovery that, while frightening, turns out to reward him with a greater connectedness to the world around him. Aidan Lockwood has parts of himself that have been hidden away, parts that other people would rather he not display, parts that even he doesn’t understand and is afraid to engage with. In doing the work to uncover the secret parts of himself, though, Aidan also discovers the secret history of his family, and through his family the history of his community. There’s an old curse, a haunting figure of a red-bearded man wearing a black suit, a white stag, a dead apple tree that keeps talking to him, a best friend who he can’t initially remember, and visions that come to him unbidden: stuff that can be really scary, especially to someone who has lived a closely circumscribed life in a remote, rural town. But by the end of his story, Aidan Lockwood finds more wonders in the world, and within himself, than anything worth hiding.

I hope his story can serve as a touchstone for readers who are trying to find themselves in this hard to navigate world. It’s the kind of book I wish I could have come across when I was doing that: trying to grow up, trying to grow into myself in the best possible ways, in the ways that make life wondrous and wonderful.


Christopher Barzak’s fiction includes the award winning adult novel, One for Sorrow, which was recently made into the major motion picture, Jamie Marks is Dead, the Nebula Award finalist, The Love We Share Without Knowing, and the short story collection Before and Afterlives, which won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Collection. Christopher grew up in rural Ohio, has lived in a southern California beach town, the capital of Michigan, and has taught English outside of Tokyo, Japan. Currently he teaches fiction writing in the Northeast Ohio MFA program at Youngstown State University. Learn more about Chris at christopherbarzak.com.

Wonders of the Invisible World is now available.

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Don’t forget! You can enter to win Wonders of the Invisible World and four other wonderful YA SFF novels at our Fantasy & Science Fiction Month giveaway (deadline Oct. 6)