Friday, May 6, 2011

The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

Title: The Freak Observer
Author: Blythe Woolston

Publisher: Carolrhonda Books
Release Date: August 1, 2010
Date Read: April 19 - 21, 2011
Rating: 4/5 stars

The Freak Observer is rich in family drama, theoretical physics, and an unusual, tough young woman Loa Lindgren. When her younger sister dies, 16-year-old Loa's clockwork galaxy collapses. As she spins off on her own, Loa's mind ambushes her with vivid nightmares and sadistic flashbacks a textbook case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But there are no textbook fixes for Loa's short-circuiting brain. If she keeps her eyes open and her neurons busy, there's less chance for her imagination to brew up nightmares and panic attacks. Maybe then she'll be able to pry her world from the clutches of death. The Freak Observer is a startling debut about death, life, astrophysics, and finding beauty in chaos.

Loved it! Blythe Woolston's The Freak Observer tells the heartbreaking story of Loa and how she tries to put herself back together time and time again. I am so happy it won the 2010 William C. Morris award for debut novel.

Right from the start, Loa reminded me of a quote from Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls: "Emma is a mattress who got thrown off the truck when her parents split up. It's not like you can blame a mattress when people don't tie it down tight enough." Loa's heartbreaking life is caused by circumstances she can't control: her sister's illness, her parents' temper and lack of compassion, her poverty, and Esther's death. Every time she tried to rise above her situation she was knocked down by another obstacle. When I finished the novel all I wanted to do was give her a hug. 

The Freak Observer is one of the best novels I've read recently about family dynamics, especially with how illness destroys everyone, not just the patient, from inside out. As many families do Loa's started out friendly and kind but turned sour and cold after Asta's death. Readers see how her parent's apathy towards her in the wake of the tragedy turned Loa from an engaging child to a bitter and tired young woman. 

Two topics dominated the novel: death and the freak observer. The constant bombardment Loa received of images or situations regarding death in each chapter scarred her emotionally until she perceived death as an actual person.  I loved how the concept of the freak observer (a single brain in space observing the universe) became something Loa could compare herself to, something that represented how isolated and alone she felt in the world. I also loved how the physics question at the beginning of each chapter alluded to the emotional content of the chapter. What an awesome plot device! 

The only disappointing thing about The Freak Observer was the ending. I found it lack luster with many question unanswered. I wish that the ending scene had been more towards the middle, with a revelation about death or the freak observer to finish off what had been such an emotional novel.

Favourite Quote: "Sometimes I wonder if I died when Asta died, but I didn't notice."

Recommended: Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), The Anatomy of Wings (Karen Foxlee)

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