Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: Freak

Freak by Marcella Pixley. Grades 6 and up.

Miriam Fisher is a seventh grade freak. It wasn't always this way. Miriam can remember long hours spent playing Star Trek with her sister and being happy with being who she was. But now her sister Deborah's in high school and she's suddenly gotten popular and stopped caring about music and school. And Miriam is left to deal by herself. When the artsy Artie comes to stay with their family because his parents are going on sabbatical in India, Miriam's dreams are coming true. She's been in love with Artie for a long time and she just knows that he'll be the one who will get her. She knows they're meant to be. But things don't turn out the way Miriam expects. Ultimately, Artie's stay just makes everything worse (especially because he's in love with her sister... just like everyone else). She's bullied at school. Tortured, really. And she can't tell her parents because she knows they wouldn't do anything and they have enough to deal with. Miriam has to find a way to deal, how to stick up for herself... or she just might self-destruct.

This is a gripping portrayal of bullying. It started out as kind of a quiet read. I figured it was going to be mostly about characters, not so much with the plot. This book is definitely all about characters, but there's plenty of plot in there, too. By the middle of the book, I was so worried about Miriam that I actually wrote that down on a post-in and stuck it in the book.

The writing is gorgeous and Pixley's got the outcast perfectly. Take this passage about sitting on the school bus:

The only place on earth I hate as much as the lockers is the school bus. The school bus is a physical map of who's cool and who isn't. No one tells you where to sit. There isn't any seating chart. But if you know who you are, you know where to go. Here's how it works: the more popular you are, the closer you sit to the back of the bus; the more of a loser you are, the closer you sit to the front. It's as easy as that. (p 25)

Obviously, Miriam is sitting in the front of the bus. And here's what makes the book even more wonderful to me. Miriam is socially awkward. She talks waaaay too much whenever she's sitting with Artie. She writes a poem on a napkin with a ketchup packet when she doesn't have her notebook with her. And she keeps going on about e.e. cummings when Artie is reading Neruda to her sister. It's definitely cringe-worthy. Even so, no one deserves the treatment she got in the book. I was rooting for her the whole way and there are images in this book that will stick with me for a long time.

It would make a Great book discussion book. There is so much to talk about with this book. And I wouldn't be surprised if it got some Printz attention.

Also reviewed by: hiplibrariansbookblog, Booktopia, and Teens Read Too. And it's been nominated for a Cybil in Middle Grade Fiction.