FREAK OBSERVER by Blythe Woolston (Carolhoda 2010) is a first for me. First Google ebook downloaded to the iPad for one. It is also a last for me, the last of the Morris finalists I read. Somehow the bookends of first and last seem fitting for this remarkable book.
Loa has experienced the loss of a younger sister and now the tragic death of her friend Esther. She needs help, but her family's insurance covers only 6 visits to the therapist. At the end of the 6th visit, Loa declares herself "cured." She knows there is no money for something like this. Her father's work is sporadic; the family still has medical bills to pay. Even Loa has work she must do at the nursing home. There is no time for the luxury of grieving slowly and healing. To keep her demons at bay, Loa avoids sleep however she can, mostly by cleaning around the house. At school, she leeps her focus on her favorite class: science. It is an assignment for extra credit that introduces Loa to the concept of the freak observer from which the novel derives it title. It is an apt metaphor for Loa and her life experiences. Woolston has created a rounded and realistic character in Loa, a teen who is dealing the best she can. She is not an angel, not an innocent. Nor is she hardened or jaded. Instead, she is slogging through it all, rationalizing, observing, sometimes figuring it out, other time clueless. In many ways, then, she is a real honest-to-goodness flesh and blood teen. I think she is a teen that our readers need to meet. <553>
The one book that immediately struck me as part of the reading ladder for this book is Laurie Halse Anderson's CATALYST. I know others will suit, but I think Loa and Kate might just have a connection or two in common.