Every year sixteen-year-old Jared’s mother’s family spend the summer together at his grandmother’s house by the beach. Last year, he began to notice the charms of his gorgeous cousin Annelise, and the closer summer’s neared, the more he’s thought about her, and written about her in his secret journal. As though to add insult to injury, this year his parents decided to take him to Europe and a whole month was wasted, but July’s finally arrived, and missing Grandma’s Fourth of July cookout isn’t an option.
Each family has a cottage, and Jared has a routine for the first day – first he hides his journal under a loose floorboard (carefully nailed down at the end of summer, so it won’t be fixed by the caretakers), then he goes for a long bike ride. Eager as he is to see Annelise, who last year confessed she, too, kept a journal, Jared sticks to his routine. When the brakes on his bike fail, Jared ends up in the swamp, which has been contaminated by industrial run-off from the now-closed mill, and is late to lunch.
Initially still stunned by the noxious dip, and excited about seeing Annelise again, it takes Jared some time to realise that he can read his family’s minds. Annelise is thrilled to see him, five-year-old Amy is single-minded in her determination to elude supervision and go into the water, eighteen-year-old Lindie’s jealous that she’s fat and ugly when Annelise is so radiant and popular (and she’s stressed about a secret), and Jared’s mother and her sisters don’t like each other at all.
And then Jared begins to discover that all is not as it seems – his say-whatever-she-thinks grandmother’s hiding something, Lindie has hidden depths, and Annelise is far from the lovely creature they all believe her to be. When Jared discovers his grandmother has also fallen into the swamp he knows she can read minds too, and then she enlists him in a plot that Jared’s far too naïve to see the end point of.
Sleater writes great fantasy – his adolescent protagonists are spirited, imperfect and believable, his plots are novel and fresh, and the resolutions always give pause for thought (particularly in his classic, The House of Stairs). Though I prefer his full-length novels, his short stories are also engaging and twist with most satisfying unexpectedness, and I’ve never finished a novel of his disappointed. This was my second reading of Others See Us, the first about ten years ago, and it was just as crisp, convincing and involving when I knew what was coming. - Alex