This tremendous book walks the fine line between didacticsm and entertainment with absolute precision, illuminating the issue of modern slavery with urgency and clarity. 13 year old Nadia Quick’s only ambition is to be a reporter and when her teacher asks her to write an article for entry into the Junior Journalists Contest her news antennae are on full alert. A lover of Marvel comic heroes, she had already styled herself on Lois Lane and when she spotted the son of a new family on the street smashing one of her family’s canoe paddles against a tree she knew she had found her arch-villain, and named him Paddle Boy. Thereafter, she put a negative spin on all his activities in order to prove to herself that he fitted the mould she had cast him into. Similarly, when a mysterious boy-Eli-rescues her beloved dog from drowning in a flooded stream then vanishes without trace she gives him the title of Invisible Boy and dubs him a superhero. The irony of his Nadia-given identity is made clear later in the book when Nadia realises that he is a victim of modern slavery and here is where the truth of her imagined story really lies.As events progress and she spots small but initially puzzling clues it is Paddle Boy who proves himself to be her ally and assists her in securing Eli’s freedom.
Each chapter of the book begins with a beautifully drawn facsimile of a page from a Marvel comic, summarising some elements of the story to come and leaving others to be discovered. The burgeoning friendship between the three children is both touching and believable and tension is masterfully built when Nadia and a bruised, battered and severely malnourished Eli cycle all night through the severest of storms to try to find Eli’s mother and when all seems lost it is Paddle Boy(aka Kenny) who helps her to save the day.
This book moved me to tears on several occasions and the power of its message is undeniable. Hollingsworth substantiates this by offering an introduction which explains how she first became aware of modern slavery and also ends the book with Nadia’s prizewinning entry in the Junior Journalists Contest, telling the story of Eli’s plight. In addition, there are contact numbers and names of organisations who can offer help and advice. The Invisible Boy would be an absolutely invaluable addition to any school library and would provide a superlative jumping-off point for further study of this contemporary malaise.