Ethel Leatherhead inadvertently turns herself invisible but discovers astonishing family secrets.
At 12, narrator Ethel has a whopping case of acne. Attempting to self-treat, Ethel combines an internet-purchased herbal tea and an accidental tanning-bed overdose of UV rays. She finds that she becomes entirely invisible—at first for a few hours, and by a third time seemingly permanently. The tea, Dr. Chang His Skin So Clear, causes foul-smelling burping but eventually actually seems to have helped Ethel’s skin. Ethel has lived with her grandmother since her mother’s death, when Ethel was 3. A classmate recently transplanted from London to Ethel’s northeast English town of Whitley Bay is, like Ethel, an outcast and becomes an ally. Heavyset and outgoing, Elliott (dubbed Smelliot by classmates) is bright and loyal to Ethel. It is he who thinks to ask the proprietor of the mostly white community’s Chinese restaurant to translate the Dr. Chang label, a moment that does not mitigate the story’s Orientalism. The plot requires not only Ethel’s (unseen) nakedness, but Ethel’s accidental—and horrified—sightings of other characters’ bare bottoms. The result is very funny and age-appropriate. The recent appearance of a stranger reveals surprising facts about Ethel’s mother. Welford’s narrative includes nicely timed, empathic humor and an honest, clear voice for Ethel along with intriguing speculation about what chemical and biological changes invisibility might demand.
Mostly funny and mostly convincing. (Fiction. 10-13)