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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Others See Us focuses mostly on three generations of a single family who have come together for an annual reunion. While the family appears relatively normal on the surface, it is filled with quirky, problem-filled individuals. The most normal is the protagonist, Jared, a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to be a writer and who is infatuated with his cousin, Annelise. One of Jared's most well-known characteristics is that he cannot lie, a virtue which gets him in trouble when he subsequently develops the ability to see into the minds of those around him. While he is obsessed with Annelise, he has no other secrets. Even when his grandmother steals his journal, he is concerned only with hiding his comments about his cousin; he has written little that would really be offensive to anyone else because he is generally open with others. Jared is also introspective and shows compassion for his cousin, Lindie, ultimately trying to protect her both from their grandmother and Annelise.

Most of the other characters seem normal, almost stereotypical cartoons, until Jared learns what they are like beneath their facades. Through his new power, Jared discovers that his father has a drinking problem, Lindie cheated on her SAT's in order to get into Harvard, and, most importantly, Annelise is a self-centered, manipulative monster obsessed with obtaining others' admiration. She has already caused one death and is willing to risk the life of her young cousin, Amy, in order to rescue her and appear a heroine. Annelise is not above manipulating her cousin Eric into getting a bad sunburn so that he will not monopolize her or "fixing" Jared's bicycle so that it will crash. In the course of the novel, Annelise's need to have everyone love her causes her to overreact to her family's anger and, in the end, to psychologically self-destruct.

The most complicated character in the novel is Jared's grandmother, who initially appears as nothing more than an elderly, opinionated eccentric who likes to shock her relatives. It soon emerges that she is as manipulative as Annelise. Although she uses her ability to read minds to steal from teller machines and blackmail her neighbors into selling their house, she has not endangered anyone's life. Or has she? This is the question that Jared raises at the end of the novel as he articulates his own fears that power might have corrupted her and, perhaps, could do the same to him and to Lindie. After all, he helps expose Annelise by telling his first ever outright lie.

Besides the novel's concern with the corrupting nature of power, it also clearly exposes the superficial nature of many relationships and the disjunction between what people often think and what they say. The novel also posits an interesting view of what the human mind looks like and the barriers which we sometimes create to protect our thoughts from others.