Claire Zorn and When We Are Invisible

“I will be the sort of person who survives in this new world.” (When We Are Invisible)

Claire Zorn is one of Australia’s best and most highly awarded contemporary YA authors.

Her novels The Protected and One Would Think the Deep have won major awards, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, the CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers award and prestigious state awards.

I have reviewed her novels in the Weekend Australian:

The Protected is a brilliant observation of family, grief and bullying, peppered with wit and dry humour… Hope and light filter the blackness…

The narrative slips between the past and present flawlessly …The ambiguous title is thought-provoking.”

“Publication of a new novel by Claire Zorn is an Australian YA literary landmark. Sam, in One Would Think the Deep is a skateboarder about to start Year 12 when his mother dies suddenly… Zorn’s descriptions of surfing and the sea are sensory, allegorical and charged with adrenaline…

Zorn also offers an insight into male dominated, misogynist surfing culture … Music helps but doesn’t heal Sam’s residual rage … His grief causes snapshots of debilitating images to wind through his brain like a warping film reel.”

The Sky So Heavy [is] a post-apocalyptic thriller which is concerned with social justice issues of asylum seekers and the imbalance between the rights of the privileged and the dispossessed.”

When We Are Invisible is the sequel to Claire Zorn’s highly regarded and popular debut The Sky So Heavy.

People are still battling to survive the nuclear winter and its effects. Lucy, Fin and Max escape Sydney and join Wattlewood compound, which has been established by preppers. However, Lucy in particular still doesn’t feel safe.

This novel differs from many other dystopian works because some of the adult characters recognise the trauma of the young protagonists and help them find some time and space to heal. Elements like this, and the strong feminist perspective, are incorporated without sacrificing any of the fast pace and action.

Thank you for speaking to PaperbarkWords, Claire.

How soon after the events in The Sky So Heavy does When We Are Invisible begin?

It picks up at almost the exact point when The Sky So Heavy ended. There was still a lot of momentum at the end of The Sky So Heavy so I was able to pick it straight back up.

Why have you chosen to write another dystopia?

I never intended to write one in the first place but that’s what The Sky So Heavy turned into, I suppose. I always thought that the book was more speculative fiction, but by the time When We Are Invisible opens it’s clear that the world my characters are now living in is no utopia. A story slightly removed from our immediate reality also allows confronting subjects to be explored at a safe distance for teenage readers.

When We Are Invisible could be seen as an unexpected title for a dystopian novel, suggesting instead contemporary realism. Why have you chosen these particular words for your title?

I toyed around with it as the title for The Sky So Heavy, because in that book one of the things I was exploring was what humans can be like when no one’s watching and the normal structures of accountability are removed. I wasn’t sure if it would work for this book until I realised that I was still exploring that theme, but this time I was writing about how some men treat women when they think no one is watching. A female experience of this newly crumbled society would be vastly different to a guy’s. I ended up exploring the invisible nature of psychological and emotional abuse sometimes perpetrated against women by men. In that sense a lot of the story is contemporary realism.

When We Are Invisible is told from Lucy’s perspective. Although a strong young woman Lucy feel uneasy about the situation at Wattlewood, particularly about Jaxon. However, Fin remains a constant, trusted figure. What is so special about Fin?

He’s empathetic, even when it’s uncomfortable for him. He’s sensitive to the fact that Lucy’s situation is different to his and there is more on the line for her than there is for him.

Your characters witness and are involved in terrible acts of violence. Is it possible to unsee violence or move on and heal in other ways?

I don’t know personally, but I’ve seen that people in my life who have witnessed atrocious acts of violence have found healthy ways to cope and move on in some ways.

Claire Zorn (UQP website)

Your line about Esther looking at Lucy “in that special way women have of belittling each other” is disturbing and hard to forget. Why have you included it?

Because sometimes that’s what women, particularly girls, do and we absolutely shouldn’t. We have enough crap to deal with in a patriarchal society without battling each other.

How do you hope to empower young women – and young men as well?

I’m sick of seeing women die at the hands of men. I feel that young girls are still fed the lie that a charming guy is what they need in their lives. There are warning signs so early in an abusive relationship, but women aren’t taught what they are, we’re taught that his unwavering attention is a good thing. We’re not taught about the small acts of control which grow into abuse. I wanted to cast a bit of light on them and encourage young women to trust their instincts.

Guys don’t realise that they have the power to provide a counterpoint. I’m not talking about being a ‘good’ boyfriend, I mean friendships and family relationships. They can show young women in their lives that they are valuable as people. We place little value on friendship between teenage guys and girls. It’s so important. Guys are still fed the lie that girls are objects of desire, it’s everywhere. Young women have the power to make choices about who they let into their lives, but ultimately the power to change the statistics lies with men. Not only can they choose to respect and value women, they can also hold other guys accountable. That takes guts, but it’s important. The burden of confronting this stuff can’t be left on women. I tried to show a little of this In When We Are Invisible.

Horses feature in the story. Why have you included them?

Well, I’m obsessed with them, so there’s that! But I’ve also thought a lot about what makes these enormous, powerful, sensitive creatures so appealing to girls in particular. I think maybe it’s because a horse can be a powerful ally. Trust, who we trust and why is a big theme in When We Are Invisible. Horse riding is a beautiful expression of mutual trust, a horse makes a decision to trust a person and vice versa.

Across your novels, who has been your most loved character and why?

Josh in The Protected. I can’t really articulate why, I think maybe he’s just a really good guy. They do exist and there’s more of them than we realise. And he’s funny, always a good quality.

What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. I’m still trying to move on, but it’s impossible. I might just have to read it repeatedly from now on.

Thanks for your responses, Claire, and without doubt When We Are Invisible will be well-received. As well as being a page-turner with times of lightness and even humour, it is another insightful, vulnerable and provocative work.

My review of When We Are Invisible will run in the Weekend Australian soon.

Claire Zorn’s website is

Claire Zorn speaking about When We Are Invisible

When We Are Invisible at UQP

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