Fix Me

Fix Me

3.8 7
by Rune Michaels

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Orphaned as a child, terrorized by her abusive brother, and haunted by memories, Leia feels exposed, powerless, and vulnerable. When her tormented mind can stand it no longer, she escapes to the zoo, where she finds shelter and seeks refuge. The zoo is a sanctuary: a protective space for families, and a safe place for the traumatized to forget. But can she ever feel


Orphaned as a child, terrorized by her abusive brother, and haunted by memories, Leia feels exposed, powerless, and vulnerable. When her tormented mind can stand it no longer, she escapes to the zoo, where she finds shelter and seeks refuge. The zoo is a sanctuary: a protective space for families, and a safe place for the traumatized to forget. But can she ever feel safe? Can she ever forget?

Once again, Rune Michaels brings us a harrowing psychological drama that raises questions about the very nature of humanity. This chilling tale will challenge our preconceptions of family, memory, and self, leaving readers wondering, are we the pinnacle of evolution—or are we just animals on display?

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—"I am not me," is her chant when reality gets too real. And for a girl whose life is filled with beatings by her brother and an aunt who feels put-upon as an unloving guardian to the orphaned duo, it is no wonder that she remains unnamed, until she calls herself "Leia" from her late mother's favorite film, Star Wars. She talks to few people and prefers cleaning the corner farthest from the door in the café where she busses tables to remain invisible. Her anonymous life comes to a halt when a man says he has been thinking about her for years. He tries to show her a picture of herself and tells her that she's special. She runs, abandoning her cell phone and bicycle, and takes the bus to the zoo—the only place she feels calm and safe. At closing, she spends the night in a cage set up for children to play in. She follows this pattern until she is found, and then helped, by Kyle, a teen who works there. Working at the zoo, especially feeding and cleaning up after the elephants and bonding with a rescued chimpanzee, calms and toughens her. Unlike the abuse suffered by the rescued chimp, Leia's abuse is kept undefined and in the shadows. It's revealed that it involves pictures taken of her and her brother, but not what kind of pictures they were. Leia's affinity for the elephants is also unexplained and the abused chimp's appearance seems a bit too convenient. The fact that she is going home, with no clear indication that her brother will stop abusing her, leaves questions and concerns about her fate.-Suanne Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
From the Publisher
"A harrowing read.... Michaels (Nobel Genes, 2010) is strong on style—lean and brutally evocative—and Leia herself is utterly convincing."

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2011

Fix Me is a mind-boggling tale about family abuse and the hardship of coming to terms with being chronically hurt by the people you love. It is sure to have readers on their toes, pondering various twists and turns."

—VOYA, December 2011

“Icelandic author Michaels has created a stark, disturbing world of human violence and psychological abuse, which is juxtaposed against the peaceful caged animals…. Such juxtaposition can only lead readers to ask questions such as, who are the real animals? Which is the real zoo? A harrowing, thought-provoking look at brutality and the nature of humanity.”

Booklist, December 15, 2011

“This interesting story delves into psychological issues of seeking one’s own identity, searching for sense of self, and many other issues that young teens often face. The zoo setting provides an unique background.”

Library Media Connection, March/April 2012, Recommended

Children's Literature - Heather Robertson Mason
After years of abuse from her brother's temper and neglect by her aunt, Leia reaches her breaking point and runs away. The only place she can think of that would feel remotely like home is the zoo near the elephants. She sneaks in and makes a home for herself in an old cage. After a few days of hiding, she is found by the owner's son and is allowed to start caring for the animals, although unofficially. But she cannot run forever, and it is not long before her brother finds her and brings with him memories of abuse that took place long before he started hitting her. The character of Leia, a name she gives herself when she is found at the zoo, is a well-thought out character. Although the story sounds bizarre, the author provides background that make her zoo escape seem plausible. However, the story doesn't go anywhere. At the climax her brother forces her to remember their past, and then the story ends without any resolution. We have no idea if their rift is mended or even if Leia finds escape from her torment. Readers of "issues" books, where they voyeuristically watch someone else's pain, might enjoy it, but there are better books out there on abuse. Reviewer: Heather Robertson Mason
VOYA - Nicola McDonald
Leia lives with her abusive brother, Brian, and their aunt, who has been taking care of them since they were orphaned. Leia is quite used to the abusive dance by now, and she has bigger troubles on her mind. When a stranger from her past shows up at her job one day, she runs to the zoo for safety. At the zoo, Leia meets Kyle, who serves as her alibi for staying there. She feels safe there, but she soon finds that while it may be easy to run away from her problems, she cannot truly hide from them. Fix Me is a mind-boggling tale about family abuse and the hardship of coming to terms with being chronically hurt by the people you love. It is sure to have readers on their toes, pondering various twists and turns. The story especially relates human instincts to those of certain animals in describing the main character's plight. Michaels blends a very intense and complicated story that is almost as disturbing as Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse, 2008/VOYA February 2009). Fix Me requires careful attention to detail, and readers may find themselves going back to connect some dots. The book will mostly appeal to readers who like a good psychological story or mystery, as well as certain animal lovers. Reviewer: Nicola McDonald
Kirkus Reviews
Be warned. This is a harrowing read, although the abuse that's broken the self-mutilating narrator, Leia, is revealed solely through its aftereffects on the victims. Teen orphans Leia and Brian live with their Aunt Phoebe, who's supervised by less-than-observant social workers. The adults appear unaware of, or are simply indifferent to, the siblings' violent, corrosive relationship. When a man recognizes Leia at the coffee shop where she has a part-time job, she flees to the one place she feels safe: a private zoo. Hiding out there, she's discovered by the owner's son, Kyle, who hatches a scheme whereby she'll share his job of feeding the animals and mucking out their cages; in return, Leia gets food and a place to sleep. As she grows attached to the animals, especially the elephants and Tina, an abused chimp awaiting transfer to a sanctuary, Leia starts to heal. Then Brian finds her. Michaels (Nobel Genes, 2010) is strong on style--lean and brutally evocative--and Leia herself is utterly convincing. But Kyle and Brian never quite come into focus; important plot points remain puzzlingly unresolved (the man who recognizes Leia seems merely a device to set the plot in motion), although the decision to omit details of the abuse itself feels right. An edgy, flawed but powerful read. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
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14 Years

Read an Excerpt


The wood is splintered around the lock, where he wedges a knife to force it open. The door to my room is scarred, the doorknob dented.

Brothers and sisters fight, Aunt Phoebe says. It’s normal. It’s a law of nature. Did you know shark fetuses fight to the death in the womb?

Aunt Phoebe watches “Shark Week” every year.

I throw myself into my room, slam the door and lock it, yelling ugly words from behind its shelter. My dresser stands just inside the room. It doesn’t take me long to push it against the door, but it’s not heavy enough. I have to lean against it, brace my feet against the floor and push against the door, bulging open with every punch, the hail of curses shooting through the wood. Adrenaline surges through my system. The desperation of keeping steady pressure, the mad rush of fear when a sliver of light shows the door has opened enough to let in photons. After photons comes his foot, and I hurl my body at the dresser, making him bellow in pain. Sometimes that works. But this time his foot doesn’t budge, and I know what happens next. The door will blast open. A kick. A punch. Until I fall to the floor. My books, penholders, everything pushed off their shelves with a few violent movements of his arms, raining down on me; nothing breakable, though, because everything’s already been broken. A hand snaking through my hair, grabbing a hold. The sudden pain of the yank, my throat sore from screaming as he drags me by my hair out of the room and down the stairs. It’s a dance and I know every step.

The door bursts open. The choreography has begun.

I back away, but my brother slides his foot behind my ankle and yanks. I fall. I hit my head on the edge of the desk, and the world goes out of focus for a second. Then I see the raised arm above me, the clenched fist in the foreground, the narrow wrist and the arm.

Familiar, but something is different now.

His shirtsleeve is missing a button. It has fallen open. I gulp in air and hold it as I see the red lines in perfect focus now straight in front of my eyes, one after another up the underside of his arm, precisely parallel, like they were planned with a ruler.

I grab his wrist, wrap my fingers around it and hold tight, and he pauses, because I’ve broken the pattern, I’ve interrupted our dance. My arms are supposed to be crossed in front of my face, covering my head, while his fists punch into my shoulders and arms and his feet slam into my legs. He never kicks me in the stomach or punches me in the face. It’s weird. He seems out of control. But he’s not. He knows what he’s doing. He always does.

“What?” he growls as my hand tightens on his wrist, turning his hand slightly.

“You too,” I say. “You do it too.”

He looks confused. “What?”

I touch his scars. They’re raised, red, recent. And underneath, the whiteness of older wounds. He pulls back. Yanks the sleeves of his shirt down and stands, his hands clenched, staring down at me.

The floor is hard against my back; my head still aches from where he pulled my hair out. I open my hands, hold out my palms. Show him what I’ve never shown anyone before. Lines, like his. The old white lines crisscrossing my palms, the new swollen red lines on top of them, the rough skin surrounding wounds that don’t get to heal. Brian looks. Then he walks away, and I’m still on the floor with my books strewn around me, my pens dotting the floor, a head that aches, but I’m smiling, because for a moment I love my brother again.

His bike roars, the walls shiver. The roar softens into a purr before it vanishes into the distance, and I stare up at my empty bookshelves and think about the Doppler Effect.

“You shouldn’t provoke him.” Aunt Phoebe stands in the doorway. Her gaze flutters from the books on the floor to the empty shelves, and then she rubs her temples. Aunt Phoebe works shifts. I never know when she’s at home and when she’s not, but it doesn’t much matter anyway. “What a mess,” she says.

I stand up, start putting the books back in the shelves. I don’t bother being neat, simply pile them up. They’ll be down on the floor again soon enough. But the heavier ones go on the bottom shelves. That’s what they recommend for earthquakes.

“You like to believe it’s all his fault,” Aunt Phoebe continues. “But you’re to blame too. You push him until he goes over the edge. You know he will. You know what will happen, every time. Why don’t you leave him alone? Why don’t you just stay out of his way? Why do you yell back? Why can’t you just ignore him until he gives up?”

I bite my lip. Align the books so their spines match up while I wait for her to finish her little speech.

“This isn’t easy for me, either, you know that. It’s not like I don’t have better things to do.” Her hands are busy twirling a button on her shirt. “I’m doing this for you kids. I’m doing it all for you and you couldn’t care less. The social worker is coming over today, you know. Brian’s school record this year—atrocious. And this reflects on me. Like I don’t try my best. Like I haven’t always tried doing my best for you two.”

“Go, then,” I mutter. I’m staying until you’re eighteen, is what she’ll say next.

“When you’re eighteen,” Aunt Phoebe says, and her face relaxes, an almost invisible smile tugging at her lips as she looks over my shoulder, like she can see out the draped window, toward the home she had to abandon to look after us, into a future where she’s free. “We’ll have to make this work until then. Don’t we? Sweetie—if we all try our best … all of us …”

I hate when she calls me sweetie. It’s fake. She knows that’s what Mom used to call me, me and Brian both, and that’s why she uses it, like using the word will make me into the sweet little kid I used to be.

She reaches out, as if to tuck my hair behind me ear, like Mom used to do too. I rear my head back and scowl at her. I’d like to kick the door shut in her face. But ignoring her makes her go away sooner.

And her hand falls down, she sighs, walks off, back to the kitchen for a smoke and coffee from a mug with an astrology sign. It’s not her mug, not even her sign. Nothing in this house is hers, and she knows it. She walks around like a stranger, or maybe more like a servant, but she’s not the only one who doesn’t want to be here.

The morning sun pulls me outside. I stand on the porch and turn my face up, feel the warmth seep into my skin, picture the sun’s radiation searing my DNA, warping it until my cells spiral out of control. My skin feels red and swollen when I go back into the house. I take a washcloth and hold it cold and wet against my skin, look in the mirror because it’s safe now; my image is distorted by an afterimage of the sun burning itself into my retinas. It’s safe now, because all I see is a shape, a shadow, not a person.

I’m broken.

But nobody’s trying to fix me.

The social worker will be here at four. I make myself scarce so by the time she arrives, Aunt Phoebe will think I’m not around. I lie down outside the kitchen window, in a warm bed of grass, bugs crawling over my arms and legs, and inhale summer while I wait. Mrs. Foster is always punctual, always exactly on time, and her little drama with Aunt Phoebe has been perfected over time. Their ritual, the coffee, the tea, the chocolate chip cookies and ginger cake, their small talk about town politics before they settle down to business—to us.

That discussion, too, is familiar. First there is Aunt Phoebe’s litany of complaints about us. Then Mrs. Foster soothes her.

“I’m not sure I can do this anymore,” Aunt Phoebe groans.

“I understand,” Mrs. Foster said. “That’s what we’re here for. To support you. It isn’t an easy task you’ve taken on.”

“It’s getting worse. They never seemed to have recovered after their parents’ deaths. I’ve done my best, but … And as they get older … and stranger … I feel like I don’t know them at all. I can’t connect with them at all. And I know they hate me.”

“They don’t hate you. They’re teenagers. When they’re a bit older, they’ll appreciate all you’re doing for them.”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I hear myself talk to them, the things I say, and how I say them, and I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them at all. They’re so difficult, and I can’t deal with it …”

“Have you given any thought to moving? It might be better for them … for all of you … to move to another house. This is where they lived when their parents died. Perhaps in another environment they will settle down … get closure …”

This I hadn’t heard before.

I picture myself in another house and the picture fits, as if I’m taking a doll and moving it from one doll’s house to another one. I chew on a blade of grass and feel Aunt Phoebe shaking her head. “I can’t take them home. I can’t take them into my home. I rented out the house, and anyway, I couldn’t take them in. My things … Brian doesn’t respect anything. He would break and steal everything I own …”

“You have power of attorney. You could sell this house, buy another one. I understand their parents’ life insurance paid off the mortgage. It should be easy.”

“That won’t help. It will just be trouble. It’s impossible to predict how they’d react.”

A kitchen chair creaks. “Where are they now?”

“Around,” Aunt Phoebe says vaguely. “She has a summer job. As for Brian, who knows what he’s up to? They’re teenagers. I can’t watch them like babies.”

“Of course not. We don’t expect you to. As long as they attend school and stay out of trouble … and well, that is a problem, you know that—school attendance was exceptionally bad for Brian this year.”

“I know. But what can I do? If you people think you can do a better job, feel free …” Aunt Phoebe gasps. “I’m sorry. I didn’t say that. I didn’t mean it.”

Insects buzz around me, on me, rustle in the grass, hurtle through the air. I close my eyes and imagine I’m one of them. I fly up and peer through the screen with my multifaceted eyes, and see Aunt Phoebe and the social worker, a hundred tiny images of them, each with their cup of coffee. Hundreds of clipboards. I ignore everything and zoom greedily in on the lumps of sugar.

“I know you’re doing your best. But he has to go to school. It’s the law.”

“I know. And as their guardian, I’m the one who gets in trouble if they decide they don’t want to go. It’s not fair. It’s been years. I’ve sacrificed everything for those two for years. Nothing I do for them is good enough. Nothing I do is ever good enough …”

I find a rip in the screen. Coordinate my six legs, maneuver through. I know what I want. Sugar. Aunt Phoebe has dipped a lump in her coffee, then left half in the saucer, the sugar molecules warm and fragrant.

“We know,” the social worker says soothingly. “They’re lucky to have you.”

“They hate me. I can’t reach them. I can’t reach them at all. I’m so close to giving up …”

“There, there,” Mrs. Foster says.

It’s the final steps in the ritual. Aunt Phoebe’s tears, Mrs. Foster’s murmurs of encouragement. Then tissues, a deep breath, and a brave promise to soldier on, because we’re family and of course she loves us—it’s not that she doesn’t love us….

My eyes are still closed. I land on the edge of the saucer, balance on my six feet, dip my proboscis into the soggy surface of the sugar lump, and feed.

© 2011 Rune Michaels

Meet the Author

Rune Michaels studied psychology at the University of Iceland and at the University of Copenhagen. Her books include Genesis Alpha, The Reminder, and Nobel Genes. She lives with her family in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Fix Me 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Leia doesn't remember what it's like to feel safe. Maybe back before the accident and the death of her parents, but even those memories are scarred by a secret too awful for words. Even though her aunt tries to provide a safe home, Leia's brother, Brian's, anger always seems to find her. Yes, maybe she invites it sometimes, but it seems that she is broken and can't control the impulse to add to her pain. When Leia accidentally discovers that Brian is a cutter, too, she thinks perhaps this common bond will change his feelings toward her. However, in her heart she knows nothing is likely to change, and when she is confronted by the stranger who claims to know her and her story, she makes a sudden decision to run. Leia ends up in the only place that offers her peace - the zoo. Her fascination with elephants leads her there. Her dreams of the gentle power of the huge animals and their ability to protect as well as destroy draw her to the elephant enclosure. After a day spent watching these amazing creatures, Leia is determined to find a way to stay at the zoo indefinitely. It takes two days for someone to discover her illegal living arrangements. Kyle is the son of the zoo director. He confronts Leia but doesn't learn much about her or the reason for her presence. He does see her as an answer to his problem - endless chores assigned by his mother as punishment for his habit of hanging with the wrong crowd. Together, Kyle and Leia form a team. She helps him with his chores and covers for him so he can escape his mother's supervision, and he keeps quiet about her living in the zoo. The arrangement is nearly perfect. Leia is able to spend time up close and personal with the animals she loves in return for food, clothing, and a place where she finally feels safe. However, like anything too good to be true, she eventually must face her brother and the reality that she doesn't really belong. When her situation begins to crumble and she must face the memories of her past, she finds she has a tougher skin than she imagined, both literally and figuratively. Author Rune Michaels paints a stark picture of an abusive family and the devastating toll on its victims. Readers are sure to sympathize with Leia as they observe her gentle care and appreciation of the animals at the same time as they witness her fear of returning to her broken life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for girls suffering with depression, sibling abuse, sexual abuse, death, anything horrible really. Interesting writing style and a worth it read.
Literary_VixenAP More than 1 year ago
This story was engrossing and I was completely enthralled by the author’s gripping way with words. It follows the life of a teenager named Leia, though we are never told her real name, and her tumultuous life. Enduring frequent violent abuse from her twin brother Brian and a loveless Aunt who barely tolerates them until they are 18. Their parents are dead, but the trauma they have left behind penetrates so deep, the twins are left shattered. One day, unable to bear the scars of the past any longer when a strange man reminds her of it, Leia runs away to the one place she can find solace, the elephant enclosure at a nearby zoo. Living in the zoo and eventually befriending the owner’s son Tyler, she attempts to piece together what remains of her fragile existence. The story was sad but addictive. I felt for Leia, hoping she would find the answers to life that she was looking for. The past comes in pieces and small flashes of memory, never detailing exactly what happened to tear these twins into pieces, but you get the gist of something horrible committed by their father, involving pictures that circulate in the world now. Understandably, Leia and Brian have not coped well and the road to healing the damage is long and often bleak. Leia discovers peace in her new home, a sanctuary of sorts at the Pilgrim Zoo, feeding the elephants and befriending an abused chimp named Tina. Though the zookeepers discover soon enough that she has been living there, Leia’s slow transformation into a more confident and strong individual is essential to her moving on and out of the zoo. I know people will be upset by the abrupt ending, left wanting and scratching their heads on what happened. I didn’t find it too bad though. Damage like the kind these twins suffered takes years to overcome, and the ending reflected that well. I highly recommend this read, a psychological look at what can happen in the aftermath of child abuse. It is not graphic, but features mature themes.
ABookZilla More than 1 year ago
This book is about a stereotypical depressed girl. The whole book is just about her whining about how awful her life is. It's totally unrealistic. Not to mention the story line is vague and builds up to absolutely nothing, utterly INFURIATING me! By the end of the book I just wanted to punch the main character. The ending doesn't explain anything, and just leaves you hanging. Don't waste your money.
bookworm73MC More than 1 year ago
who ever read this book please xplain it to me. the rest of the book was amazing and i love the main character!!! *spoiler alert!!!* did her dad sexually abuse her and her brother and take pics is tht the picture the man showed her? im alil confused on tht part pleaase help me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago