The Unseen

The Unseen

4.4 20
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Twelve-year-old Alexandra stumbles upon the key to a hidden world—but is it a gift, or a nightmare?

Twelve-year-old Alexandra Hobson feels ignored and unloved in her family of annoying, self-absorbed overachievers. One day in the woods she hears a shot, and is horrified to see a large, beautiful bird fall to the ground. She takes the…  See more details below


Twelve-year-old Alexandra stumbles upon the key to a hidden world—but is it a gift, or a nightmare?

Twelve-year-old Alexandra Hobson feels ignored and unloved in her family of annoying, self-absorbed overachievers. One day in the woods she hears a shot, and is horrified to see a large, beautiful bird fall to the ground. She takes the injured egret home, hiding it in the basement behind the furnace, where it joins the other wounded creatures Xandra cares for unbeknownst to her parents.

The next morning, the bird is gone. But it has left something behind: a quivering white feather. Convinced the feather is enchanted, Xandra brings it to school, where a weird, uncool seventh-grader named Belinda tells her it’s a key to an unseen world. As Xandra enters a strange and scary realm, she confronts a magic that’s all too real. Can she figure out how to stop the key from becoming a curse?

This ebook features an extended biography of Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Twelve-year-old Xandra, the next-to-youngest member of the large Hobson family, feels ill at ease and resentful among her prodigally talented "siblings," the term she prefers ("There was something warm and cozy sounding about `brothers and sisters' that had very little to do with the way Xandra felt about [them]"). Lacking their gifts, she knows that she is nonetheless in some way special, even "enchanted." So when she rescues a majestic wounded bird from hunters and sneaks it to her secret basement animal refuge, she is not altogether surprised when the bird heals overnight and mysteriously disappears, leaving her a feather. Xandra knows instinctively that the feather must be magical. The weird girl at school, Belinda, tells her it might be a "key," whereupon Xandra's challenge becomes getting Belinda to show her how to use it. Snyder's (The Egypt Game) characterization of Xandra ranks among her most penetrating and psychologically true, and the author performs a rare feat in getting readers to identify straightaway with a not especially admirable protagonist. However, the realistic underpinnings impede the fantasy elements. When Belinda does teach Xandra to use the key, the result is nightmarish but very brief-and yet gives rise to dozens of pages of Xandra's review, speculation and almost repetitious efforts to learn more. These rhythms may be lifelike, but they distend the pacing. This story is better suited to readers whose taste runs to the ruminative, rather than those seeking a fantasy adventure. Ages 9-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
One day while wondering through the forest—which she is forbidden from—Alexandra "Xandra" Hobson hears gunfire, soon noticing a beautiful white bird has been shot. Before the hunters can grab it, Xandra takes the bird and runs through the forest. Though she has no idea what kind of bird it may be, Xandra takes it to her home to nurse it to health, as she has secretly done so before in the basement with other animals. The next day, however, she finds the bird is missing leaving a feather, which later becomes a "key" to the "unseen" world. To learn more about this "key," Xandra must talk to the "weird" girl, Belinda, whose grandfather has knowledge of such supernatural things. Xandra becomes hesitant in talking to Belinda, but the two become friends and learn much about each other, and Xandra experiences the "unseen" world, as well. Though Snyder writes few scenes in which Xandra experiences the "unseen," the story follows Xandra's experience in becoming humbler, closer to her siblings, and experiencing a life she isn't used to— Belinda's life and the "unseen." 2004, Delacorte Press, 199 pp., Ages young adult.
—Felipe Baez
Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Zandra Hobson feels shut out in a family of overachievers. She refers to family members as "Helen, the mother, the famous lawyer," or "Darling Little Gussie," her little sister. Because she isn't pretty, bright, or talented, Zandra creates her own family of stuffed toys and rescued animals. When an injured bird leaves behind a white feather, Zandra thinks the feather is magic. Belinda, the outcast girl at school, tells her the feather is a Key. The Key opens a door into a strange, yet terrifying world. With her heightened senses, Zandra sees the invisible world that co-exists with ours. Warm, cuddly creatures remind her of the animals she saved. But more often hooded, ferocious forms attack her. Is the Key good or evil? With Belinda's guidance, Zandra plunges deeper into the unseen to learn the truth, that the attacks are created out of her own anger and bitterness. When Zandra gets into serious trouble, she herself is rescued—by her family. Middle children who sometimes feel invisible themselves will relate to Zandra in this dark fantasy. The narrative packs plenty of action, but is often slowed long blocks of interior monologue. A good choice for motivated readers. 2004, Delacorte, Ages 9 to 12.
—Candice Ransom
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Xandra Hobson likes to escape from her family, where she feels like a complete failure in the company of geniuses, and to embark on imaginary adventures involving magic. One day, while in the woods, she encounters real magic when she rescues a bird from some hunters; the next day, it is gone, leaving a feather in its place. A classmate, Belinda, sees it and realizes that it is a key to the unseen world and that with it, Xandra can enter a reality no one else can see. The girls become friends as Belinda and her grandfather attempt to explain the mystical world of the unseen to her. Xandra is terrified by the horrible creatures that surround her and the physical wounds that they inflict on her, unaware that they are of her own making and fed by her anger and hostility. When she breaks her ankle and is stranded in the woods, her family comes to her rescue and she realizes that her siblings aren't perfect and that she is loved. This book is a wonderful ride into fantasy, with a lot of realistic touches to think about and relationships to ponder. Readers will see, even though Xandra does not, that her perceptions about her family are all wrong. They'll also see that being so wrapped up in yourself can cause you to miss what's right in front of you. This perceptive story is not to be missed.-Saleena L. Davidson, South Brunswick Public Library, Monmouth Junction, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
At 12, Xandra (short for Alexandra) is prickly and at odds with her distracted, emotionally distant parents and her accomplished siblings. She takes solace in imagining enchanted worlds and in privately caring for orphaned animals (a skunk, an owl, and other wild creatures) in a corner of her basement. The gift of a white feather from a mysterious bird she saves from hunters becomes for Xandra a strangely compelling key to a surrounding, separate reality. She immediately senses the feather's intrinsic power and seeks out her classmate, Beatrice, to tell her more. Wielding the key with its possibilities of insight and great danger brings Xandra into contact with terrifying shadowy creatures that threaten and bite, reflections of her own ambiguous feelings, and Xandra seeks both comfort and salvation by reconnecting with her siblings. Snyder tidily braids up the ends (friendship, family, loneliness, the occult) even as her examination of resonance between inner and outer life evokes a clear sense of menace in Xandra's experiences with the unseen. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Read an Excerpt

The Unseen

By Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Random House

Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385730845

Chapter One


It all began on a cold day in early autumn when a girl named Alexandra Hobson was playing a dangerous game in a forbidden forest. The game, about an enchanted creature, half human and half animal, had been inspired by the fact that Alexandra, or Xandra, as she preferred to be called, believed herself to be enchanted in some deeply secret and very private way. In a way that ordinary human beings could never understand or appreciate. Particularly not the humans who happened to be members of her own family and who, in spite of what most people thought, were all hopelessly ordinary.

As for the forbidden forest? The forest was real enough, acres and acres of undeveloped timberland that started right behind the Hobsons' property and stretched out toward the mountains. And the forbidden part was real too. Forbidden by people who insisted that a forest wasn't a safe place for a twelve-year-old girl to spend so much time, at least not all by herself.

And so it happened that on that particular cloudy afternoon nobody knew where Xandra was or what she was doing. Not that any of her siblings would have cared to know, except so that they could tell and cause trouble. In the Hobson household causing trouble for Xandra had always been a favorite pastime.

She hadn't meant to go very far that day, but she'd gotten caught up in the game about being an enchanted woodland creature, and one thing and one forest pathway led to another. She'd skirted the edge of the marsh, crossed Cascade Creek by jumping from one rock to another, and kept going on, deeper into the forest.

This time the game concerned a unicorn, a magical creature that could be seen only by royal princesses or enchanted people. She was closing in on the unicorn, imagining fleeting glimpses of its slender legs and glowing golden horn, when she suddenly arrived at a place she had never been before. She had come out of dense forest into a small circular clearing carpeted with a thick layer of vines and ferns and surrounded by tall overhanging trees. She was turning in a circle, admiring the peaceful beauty of the small meadowlike area, when she was startled by a sudden sound.

She'd heard what? Gunfire? Yes. Definitely gunfire. Two shots in rapid succession. Frozen by surprise, Xandra was standing motionless when she became aware of a snapping, crackling sound in the branches over her head. She jumped back, throwing up her arms to protect her face, and when she took them down, there it was, only a few feet away.

Lying on a mound in the center of the vine-covered clearing, very close to Xandra's feet, was a large white bird. As she stared in shocked surprise, it fluttered weakly and then lay still. At first she was too horrified and angry to be frightened or even to remember why she ought to be, completely blocking out all the times she'd been warned about what might happen to her if she went into the woods alone, particularly during hunting season.

It was a big bird, its body larger than a pigeon's, but completely, purely white. Its wings, fanned out on the gray earth, gleamed like sunlit snow-except where an ugly smear of red ran along the edge of the right wing and trickled down onto the grass. Muttering, "How could they? How could anyone shoot something so beautiful?" Xandra dropped to her knees, but as she stretched out her arms the bird began to move. Lifting a sleek, tear-shaped head, it opened its long golden beak and gave a mournful cry. "Oh," Xandra gasped, "you're alive."

The wounded bird raised its head on its long curved neck and looked at her. Looked long and carefully, turning slowly to examine her with one glittering, jewel-like eye and then the other. Then it crooned again and began to try to pull its long slender legs under its body. It was still struggling to get to its feet when Xandra became aware of a series of terrifying sounds: shouting voices, crashing underbrush, and then trampling feet and the barking of a dog.

They were coming. The hunters were coming to get their prey. To crush it into a bag full of dead game, or to hang it from someone's belt by its long delicate legs. Scooping the white bird up into her arms, Xandra turned and ran.

At first she ran directly toward home, but then, remembering something she'd read about how to escape bloodhounds, she headed for the creek. She stopped only for a moment at the rocky bank, then jumped out into the water and began to wade, working her way upstream.

The streambed was paved with slippery, moss-covered rocks, and the cold water quickly saturated her shoes. The depth of the water varied as she moved forward. Sometimes it was only a few inches deep, but now and again it flowed well above her knees, soaking the hem of her skirt. The howling of the hound grew louder and as she slipped and stumbled forward, she wondered frantically if it was really true that a hunting hound would lose the scent if its prey ran through flowing water. Or was she freezing her legs and ruining her new shoes for nothing?

The dog's howls grew louder and closer, and now Xandra could hear the voices of the hunters-hoarse, threatening voices, calling to each other and to the hound. Shaking, almost choking with fear, she stumbled on, slipping and sliding, now and then falling to her knees. With the motionless bird still cradled in both of her arms, she had to struggle clumsily to get back onto her feet. She was cold and soggy, her knees were skinned and bruised and her plaid skirt was wet almost to her waist before she became aware that the sounds of pursuit had begun to fade.

Excerpted from The Unseen by Zilpha Keatley Snyder Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book that readers ages 9-14 can read. It is amazing combonation of adventure and fantasy. It was one of the best books that I have ever read! That is what I thought about the Unseen. If you are looking for a good book, go buy this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is one of those books that you would want to stay up all night reading under the covers with your flash light. its a true adventure. but if you are a highly religous person this book might not be for you. it taps into a whitchcraft like mystery that, like harry potter might not be the best choice. i would reccomend this book to anyone that has a love of adventure with a touch of mystery!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love Zilphia Keatley Snyder's books they aren't the typical books you can find. In this book a girl finds a feather that unlocks a world to creatures that can be good friends or strong enemies. She meets another girl who, as well as her grandfather, knows of this world and may have even experienced it. The main character doesn't know if she like this new world or hates it. But some of the creatures in that world resemble memories of animals she onced owned. And there are other ones that attack her. When she tries to leave that 'world' she gets out and decides to stay out for good...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I just started reading it, and I already love it! It's about a girl who finds a special animal in the forest where she plays. The animal leaves a special sign behind when it mysteriously disapears. This sign actually turns out to be a strange key to something...but what?... Read this book if you like a good story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the best!!!! I think you should go to Barnes and Noble to buy it!!! I bet you when you start reading this book you can never put it down!!! If you are someone that loves fanatasy you will TOTALLY love this book!!!! Cause I sure did. If my bet was right then you owe me money hahahaha just kidding!!! READ IT READ IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is fanstatic. It is amazingly intresting and is in my opinion the best book I have ever read. I would recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm only starting this book and I love it!!!so exciting and realistic ..OMG I'm in love so far!!!!
MrnookC More than 1 year ago
Every good word i can think of describes this book Good lesson too
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was so good and you can just read it over and over again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
Faintly remember reading this after a friend recommended it. Good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I havent read this book but iv read zilpha keatley snyder books and there ammazing! If u guy s have time read the egypt game its an amazing zilpha keatly snyder book that i just read in school i love her books!!!!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best fantansies i ever read i loved this book. I think almost all of her books are great. Zilpha has become one of my favorite authors.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is enchanting! Mrs. Snider has the power to capture her readers heart in a heart beat. There is no reason for Mrs. snider to EVER stop writing. In her time, she has published several other books of my enjoyment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this to me saying I might like it and after reading it I enjoyed it. This is about a misunderstood girl who discovers accidentally that she can see things no one else can see and meets a girl who both girls have in common. Thus both the girls set out to find out just what is happening.