A heartbreaking and moving story about a daughter's quest to discover the truth about her father's hidden past. Ada Sibelius is raised by David, a single father and head of a computer science lab in Boston. Homeschooled, she accompanies her loving father - brilliant, eccentric, socially inept - to work every day. By 12 she is a painfully shy prodigy. At the same time that the lab begins to gain acclaim, David's mind begins to falter, and his mysterious past comes into question. When her father moves into a nursing home, Ada is taken in by one of David's colleagues. She embarks on a mission to uncover her father's secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. Eventually Ada pioneers a type of software that enables her to make contact with her past and to reconcile the man she thought she knew with the truth. Praised for her ability to create quirky and unforgettable characters, Liz Moore has written a piercing story of a daughter's quest to restore the legacy of the father she desperately loves.
"In her third novel, Moore delivers a striking examination of family, memory, and technology…Moore's exploration of David's decline is remarkable and heartbreaking, and she shifts gears deftly as the story is complicated further: when Liston tries to become Ada's legal guardian, questions about David's identity arise.... Mysteries build, and Moore's gift for storytelling excels. This is a smart, emotionally powerful literary page-turner." (Publishers Weekly) "Moore's third and perhaps most ambitious novel is large in scope, as it explores the philosophical issues surrounding human vs. computer consciousness, but it is also a small-scale, powerfully local story about a young girl.... Moore's vivid characters will stay with readers long after the story has ended. Highly recommended for literary fiction enthusiasts, with crossover appeal to sf fans." (Library Journal) "Intelligent and brilliantly absorbing.... Filled with achingly memorable scenes...and beautifully nuanced writing, Moore's latest is a stunner in its precise take on identity and the compromises even the most righteous among us must make to survive life's challenges with grace." (Booklist)
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Ada Sibelius, What a Magnificently Drawn 14-Yr-Old
This is a coming-of-age novel unlike any I can readily recall. Yesterday morning, after finishing it, I was ready to say 4, thinking then it may have been an hour or two too long. The novel did not affect me with a strong emotional reaction such as utter sadness upon finishing a few novels. The ways here were much more subtle and rather more profound.
This morning, after sleeping on it, I say 5. My primary barometers on a novel's quality are whether it will follow me, has it evoked contemplation of some pressing issue in my world, whether I've been transported into another world in the reading, whether I've connected with at least one character in some way, positively or negatively, and Borges' test of aesthetic emotions mentioned below. On all counts, I'd say definitely yes. Moreover, if I was pushed to state what segments should have been cut, I'd be hard-pressed to point to any parts I now believe were unnecessary to the final resolution and what I got from reading the novel.
This has in some places been described as a mystery, but the mystery part is not that difficult. While that mystery certainly was the motor that drove the book from beginning to end, I didn't see it as a huge revelation in the bigger picture, particularly not in today's world. If you seek a book of mystery, you'll likely be disappointed and find this book too slow. On the other hand, if you are a "hedonistic reader" as Borges described himself, one who reads "books for the aesthetic emotions they offer me, and ignor[ing] the commentaries and criticism," then I think this book is for you, especially for female geeks, and I use that term in a positive way to describe girls who grew up with a technical or scientific precocity and weren't in the uppity social crowd in grade school.
Much has been made of the novel earlier this summer, The Girls, and how it was that many women connected with the 14-year-old female protagonist being thrown into an odd environment. The protagonist, Ada Sibelius, here is 14 for most of the novel, and I connected much more with her, found her nuances much deeper, as well as having considerably more empathy for her fears, the betrayals she's suffered, the utter lack of trust now in the world and her losses. While it is true I'm male, the author is not, Liz Moore's most definitely been a 14-year-old girl. While I had to look up the name Evie as "The Girls" protagonist, I won't forget Ada's name.
Ada grew up with her single dad, David Sibelius, a socially awkward computer scientist, being "home schooled" (before home schooling had been approved in MA) at his computer lab on the campus of a fictional MIT (here called Boston Institute of Techn.). She was born to a surrogate mother and raised by David. We learn much of their connection and life together and of Ada's work on a computer program that processes the English language, called ELIXIR. But dad's mind starts to go to the point he ultimately has to be taken to a home for Alzheimer's patients. Before he's lost all of his mental faculties, he gives Ada what should be the key to decode a text document explaining his past. Yet she cannot figure out how to decode it for many years.
Before long, she learns that his name was not David Sibelius. That disclosure is a big part of the book, because it sets Ada adrift at a time when she's already having a tough time adapting to the unseen world of school after being home schooled all her life, and now this: a betrayal that shakes the foundation of her identity. Who was her father if not the David Sibelius estranged from a monied NYC family who graduated from Cal Tech and was hired to run the lab at BIT? So, Ada's having to discover another unseen world of David's secrets.
Another unseen world is David's brain slowly deteriorating from Alzheimer's, with his inability to recall the language of which he was so aware in building ELIXIR, and he then starts to have a Midwestern U.S. twang in his accent, starts referring to Ada as Susan, says his name is Harold Kannady and can only remember things if put a certain way, like his favorite Christmas song which Ada sings to him, when he's no longer aware of who Ada is.
The book is told mostly 3d person from Ada's POV, from early 1980s Boston fast forward to 2009 San Francisco and back to the 1940s and 50s to discover facts about David, ending in 2016 Boston and going beyond in the last chapter, the Epilogue, which is told from a completely unique POV.
I'll leave out discussion here of computer science and virtual reality, except to say that Liz Moore does a great job of breaking it down in terms that made sense.
In addition to the theme of rapidly changing technology, the book fully explores what it means to be a parent and to give your child a surname; the trust we blindly give our parents as children until we are betrayed in some way, big or small; the cycle of life, escape, love of family, puppy love v. amorous love, and fear of betrayal.
The thing I took away from it most was identifying with as fully developed a character as I can recall in recent memory, Ada Sibelius, a 14-year-old girl thrown into a tailspin of life as she knew it, an awkward social world, a world in which she has no one to trust as she now lives with Liston, a close work friend and neighbor of David's, and her 3 sons, one of whom is 17 and is her crush.
I recommend this novel highly for such a remarkable young female character, and give it extra oomph if you were ostracized as a geek/nerd in high school, with the provisos that you should not read this as some sort of mystery novel, and if you don't mind a slow burn in development of a character as a price for a more satisfying payoff.
- W Perry Hall "One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope"
Moore's Character Depth is Impressive
I loved Heft, Moore's second novel. In my opinion the audio production of Heft is in the top 3 audiobooks I've ever listened to. I was very excited when her new novel came out. The audio of The Unseen World is quite good compared to most but no where near Heft. Moore is amazing for her depth of character description, she is able to draw people in a way that puts the listener behind the eyes of her main subjects look no other author I have read recently. In both novels I was amazed by how she crafts her characters as though she has lived their lives. Her description of adolescent angst and fear and uncertainty is so vivid, her insight so clear, you feel the anguish physically. The premise of The Unseen World is based on computer science, which I have no interest in, and certain passages where she describes coding and technical aspects don't lend well to audio, but overall this novel is a success. I do recommended reading Heft first to experience her writing style.