Book Review: Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
There are people in this world who are Nobody. No one sees them. No one notices them. They live their lives under the radar, forgotten as soon as you turn away.
That’s why they make the perfect assassins.
The Institute finds these people when they’re young and takes them away for training. But an untrained Nobody is a threat to their organization. And threats must be eliminated.
Sixteen-year-old Claire has been invisible her whole life, missed by the Institute’s monitoring. But now they’ve ID’ed her and send seventeen-year-old Nix to remove her. Yet the moment he lays eyes on her, he can’t make the hit. It’s as if Claire and Nix are the only people in the world for each other. And they are—because no one else ever notices them. (Goodreads synopsis)
Perhaps there is no greater desire in the life of a teen than to simply be noticed, to feel like they belong. Here, Barnes plays with that theme by creating teens that – quite literally – can not be noticed, there is something in their make up that makes them hard to see and easy to forget. Claire can list the number of times that her parents have left somewhere without her, and they have even had to put a sign on their door reminding them that they have a daughter. The beginning scenes where we are first introduced to Claire and her desire to be noticed are strong and palpable. It draws you right in.
And then there is Nix, sent to kill Claire. He, like Claire, is also a Nobody, trained from early on to be an assassin. When we first meet him, he is a brainwashed ruthless killer who thinks his only purpose in life is to carry out the directives of The Society; He is, after all, a Nobody. Soon the two are falling in love and plotting to take down The Society.
The Society is a secret, nefarious organization that has motives and powers Nix comes to understand far too late in his life. To them, Nobodies are simply puppets or targets. They also employ other interesting characters such as Sensors and Nulls. It’s an interesting world to dip your toes into.
Nobody is part paranormal thriller and part romance. The concept is intriguing, the thriller aspect is well done, and the romance leaves me feeling conflicted. It is very romantic, but in the you quite literally complete me way that I worry can send unhealthy messages, but then we are dealing with paranormal elements here. But then, he did try to kill her recently so – see, conflicted. If we remove the paranormal elements, this would be a prime example of an unhealthy relationship. BUT, 1) it is a paranormal and 2) you are dealing with a main character who was raised to be an assasin and another character who literally can’t be seen by other people; Nix is literally the first person she has ever met that can truly see her and, perhaps more importantly, can understand what it is like to be her.
“You can’t tell me I matter and then leave like I don’t.”
― Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Nobody
And to be fair to Nix, once he realizes that he has been operating in a world of lies created by The Society, he sets out to make different choices. They are not overnight, but it is hard to undo that type of lifelong nurture. So I think readers can step back and see this relationship as the complex thing that it is. In fact, there are some great moments of character growth here. And some interesting points for discussion.
Nobody is told in alternating points of view between both Nix and Claire, and it really, really wants you to understand the “nobodyness” that haunts them both. Although it is an interesting concept, it can create a depressive and, at times, slow pace. It is atmospheric in tone and reminds me most of Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin. There is a melancholy that, understandably, haunts the pages and weighs the words down. It is repeated time and again: you are nobody, you aren’t supposed to feel, you aren’t supposed to think, you aren’t supposed to ask questions, you don’t matter. The beauty is in how the two main characters come to stand up against this message and choose to matter.
Nobody is flawed, but I think teen readers will be drawn into the concept and the malaise. There are some interesting scientific discussions about matter and anti-matter, which would put this on the Weird Science booklist. 3 out of 5 stars, recommended. It has a strong start and a strong finish, the middle gets muddied a bit but not enough that readers won’t be intrigued and want to finish. Paranormal and thriller readers should find it intriguing.
One last, totally librarian quibble, with the book – Claire steals books from the library! Actually, there are aspects of being a Nobody that allow them to go in and out of buildings unseen and it causes them to engage in some morally questionable behavior – see the library books above – but I think that is also an interesting discussion.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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