#15 “Are You Seeing Me?” by Darren Groth


  1. City of Heavenly Fire – Cassandra Clare
  2. Every Word – Ellie Marney
  3. Skinjob – Bruce McCabe
    i.     Bloodlines – Richelle Mead
    ii.   The Golden Lily – Richelle Mead
    iii. The Indigo Spell – Richelle Mead
    iv. The Fiery Heart – Richelle Mead
  4. Silver Shadows – Richelle Mead
  5. Looking For Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
  6. Goose – Dawn O’Porter
  7. Run – Gregg Olsen
  8. Love Letters to the Dead – Ava Dellaira
  9. Stoner – John Williams
  10. The Wrong Girl – Zoë Foster
  11. A Fatal Tide – Steve Sailah
  12. Murder in Mississippi – John Safran
  13. Elianne – Judy Nunn
  14. Being Jade – Kate Belle
  15. Martha in the Mirror – Justin Richards
  16. Shining Darkness – Mark Michalowski
  17. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  18. Divergent – Veronica Roth
  19. Insurgent – Veronica Roth
  20. Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  21. The Messenger – Markus Zusak
  22. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  23. The Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons
  24. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
  25. NOS4R2 – Joe Hill
  26. The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M. Harris
  27. Hades – Candice Fox
  28. Last Night at Chateau Marmont – Lauren Weisberger
  29. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
  30. Are You Seeing Me? – Darren Groth
  31. Masquerade – Kylie Fornasier

I’m currently sitting in the refectory at uni, surrounded by people who aren’t currently crippled by stomach cramps, nausea, and the need to run for the bathroom every forty-five minutes or so. So I feel like I’m justified in being a bit of a social pariah today. Well, that, plus I really needed to get this written. Every time I’ve tried over the past two days my body has just flat out rejected the idea. I figured now is probably my best option, given that I’ve spent the past three and a half hours doing lecture catch-up and I have three and a half hours until my next tute. Plus, I’ve managed to eat a sausage on bread (that I paid $1 for) and a teeny, delicious soy mocha without getting cramps that cause me to break out in hot and cold chills so I think I’m set.

Now, onto business.

Are You Seeing Me? was a beautiful way to restore my faith in the written word after the train wreck that was A Fatal TideNot only was it brilliant, but the two main characters were based in Brisbane, my home town. So whenever Groth talked about suburbs and landmarks, I actually could envision the places he were talking about.

Our two protagonists are Perry and Justine Richter. Twins who have had to deal with the premature death of their father at the hands of cancer and the abrupt abandonment of their mother when they were young. All of this, plus Perry was born with a “brain condition” that means he struggles with a lot of the things that you and I may take for granted: social interactions, crowds, anxiety.

Groth tells this story from both Perry and Justine’s perspectives, which I found lovely. I don’t know if any of you have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, but that book was told entirely from Christopher’s POV. Christopher, while I don’t believe it is stated outright, lived with severe Asperger’s for his entire life. In actual fact, his story is very similar to the Richter twins’: absentee mother, devoted father. While Curious Incident was an incredible novel, it was hard to read too much all at once because Christopher’s character was just so overwhelming. There was no respite from the daily struggles Christopher went through and so the novel was heart-wrenching most of the way through.
With Are You Seeing Me? we got Justine’s POV as well as Perry’s and it was a beautiful counterbalance. Not only this but we got insight into the father’s mind as well, through a journal he kept right up until his dying day for Justine’s 18th birthday. (He did try and keep one for Perry too, but writing about Perry’s struggles growing up got too painful for him. The Richter father is a beautiful human being and we never actually get to meet him).

Groth created two extraordinary characters who could not be more different, not only for the for obvious reasons, but also through the way he wrote the characters. We could tell the voices apart with no trouble and that takes some serious skill. We also could see a little into the backstory of the characters without Groth having to explicitly tell us. With Justine, she made constant references to “capital L” Literature and so we get the sense that she is incredibly well-educated despite not being at school (it comes out later that Justine dropped out of uni in order to look after Perry and her dad). We also get glimpses of the struggles Perry has in social situations. Much like Christopher in Curious Incident, he describes a person’s actions and makes inferences about their emotions, if he can. If he can’t, we do the rest. It’s beautifully done.

I just want to talk about Groth’s writing style for a second. He is the Australian John Green, only slightly more sedate. I can’t remember who said it, but someone once described Green’s writing style as “it just seems as though he’s aiming for a bumper sticker with every sentence”. Which is, unfortunately, accurate. Groth, however, just has this subtle way of subverting the readers’ expectations of how a sentence will end. If I flick to a random page, I’ll find you a quote:

Two minutes later, we are suspended high above the PNE, the two of us together in a cage, defying gravity, looking out over a city that doesn’t know it is being watched.

pg 215, Perry

Beautiful. right? Just gorgeous.

There are so many things I want to talk about with this novel, things that are so intrinsic to its genius, but I don’t know if I’ll have time. I’ve already rambled a bit, haven’t I? So I’ll try and keep this brief.

The title of the book, Are You Seeing Me? is the question Justine and Perry ask each other; more so Justine than Perry. When Perry is in trouble, suffering from his acute anxiety in a situation he doesn’t understand, Justine tries to avert it by getting in his face, putting her hands on his shoulders or his face, forcing him to look at her and ask him “are you seeing me?”. It calms him down because he has something to focus on. Perry asks Justine while they are at the fish market and Justine immediately asks him why her catching a fish is so important to him.

Oh! Sidebar, OK, so Perry and Justine are from Brisbane but they venture to Canada for a two week holiday to Canada before Perry goes into an assisted living centre back in Brisbane. It’s a chance for the two of them to spend as much time together as they can before Perry moves away. There’s also an ulterior motive to Justine taking Perry overseas but if I tell you that, it’ll give the game away. So the “fish market” I just talked about is one of the pit stops on the Richer’s Canadian holiday.

BTW, “Just Jeans” is Perry’s nickname for Justine because that’s what he called her when they were tiny. Cue “awww”

The bond between the twins is simply wonderful. We never see Justine become frustrated or angry with Perry (well, once, but she was strung out with worry so we let that slide) and we only ever see Perry respond with love to Justine. He hates her tears and they create a tidal wave of anxiety in him that triggers an episode. It is such an honest, simple love that it warms your heart, it really does. And then, when Perry explains to us why he wants to go to Fair Go (the assisted living centre) it damn well brings you to tears. Most of the books I read are all about the love of, well, a lover or friends, but this one is about family first and foremost. And I love it.

Something that really drives home how acute Perry’s anxiety can be are these scenes Groth writes in the middle of a relatively normal scene, where the world turns topsy turvy. When Perry’s at the PNE (The Canadian – can’t remember which town now – version of the Ekka in Brisbane), he starts feeling anxious and before he breaks down, he is seeing all of the roller coasters fall apart, collapse, spin out of control, and kill people. It was an inspired move on Groth’s part because instead of describing Perry’s physiological symptoms, we get his mental state as anxiety takes hold. It helps us to understand him more as a character, what he fears, what he sees as a hero, etc. It was just such a lovely touch.

“What is it about sea monsters, Pez? Why are you into them so much?”
It’s not something I’ve ever been asked before – not by Justine or Dad or the teachers I had at school. Thinking about the answer takes a few minutes. Justine doesn’t stare, doesn’t repeat the question. She knows I need a moment to think and organise a response. By the time I am ready to reply, she’s cleaned up our table and the rubbish is in the bin.
“There are two reasons,” I say. “The first is because they are excellent at hiding. They’ve survived for thousands of years and no one has caught them. And the second reason is they’ve learned to survive even though the world is confusing and difficult for them.”

Doesn’t that just melt your heart? It did mine. See, Perry is fixated on a few things: earthquakes, Jackie Chan, sea monsters. But this explanation just broke me. Because he is being totally honest and that is exactly how he feels. He’s not trying to garner support or sympathy, he’s stating a fact. Just like he does when he talks about how much he loves his sister. Perry’s character is just amazing. The world needs more people like Perry Richter.

OK, so I’ve gone on for far too long now. I know it, you know it, and you’ve probably abandoned me by this point, but I just want to make one last point.

Perry has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people – mixing with them and communicating with them – and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviours. I appreciate your understanding and patience.

Justine repeats this speech quite a few times throughout the course of the novel. It’s her way of paving the road for Perry in a world that is too narrow-minded to accept him for who he is. I found myself skim-reading this speech quite a few times in the early pages but then I forced myself to read each and every word, each and every time. Because Groth repeated those words for a reason. Justine would have absolutely have had to say this at least a few times every day that she and Perry went out into society. It became a knee-jerk reaction for her, but she meant it every time. So, in order to better understand Justine’s plight, I made sure I was right there with her whenever she made her speech. As Perry’s carer, it was a necessity. One she didn’t particularly enjoy, but did anyway. And so, I thought it only fair that I should listen (or read) her speech every time she made it. It makes Justine’s character all the more real.

This book explores so much more than just Perry’s mental state and the twins’ relationship. It explores society, all the different shades of relationships, our perceptions, Australia, Canada, dreams, heroism, anxiety, disease, survival, and love. But I can’t talk about all of those points here. I’ll bore you all to death. So here’s my last plea: read this book. If you love John Green, you will love this novel. And the Aussie bits? References to places you’ve never heard of? Just think of them as a tiny vacation for your imagination.

Oh, alright, just one more quote:

Love is reliable. You can depend on it.




About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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5 Responses to #15 “Are You Seeing Me?” by Darren Groth

  1. Pingback: Q & A with Darren Groth, author of Are You Seeing Me? | My Infernal Imagination

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