The Freak Observer

( 2 )

Overview

For eight years, Loa Lindgren’s world ran like one of those mechanical models of the solar system, with her baby sister, Asta, as the sun. Asta suffered from a genetic disorder that left her a permanent infant, and caring for her was Loa’s life. Everything spun neatly and regularly as the whole family orbited around Asta.

But now Asta’s dead, and 16-year-old Loa’s clockwork galaxy has collapsed. As Loa spins off on her own, her mind ambushes her with vivid nightmares and ...

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The Freak Observer

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Overview

For eight years, Loa Lindgren’s world ran like one of those mechanical models of the solar system, with her baby sister, Asta, as the sun. Asta suffered from a genetic disorder that left her a permanent infant, and caring for her was Loa’s life. Everything spun neatly and regularly as the whole family orbited around Asta.

But now Asta’s dead, and 16-year-old Loa’s clockwork galaxy has collapsed. As Loa spins off on her own, her mind ambushes her with vivid nightmares and sadistic flashbacks — a textbook case of PTSD. But there are no textbook fixes for Loa’s short-circuiting brain. She must find her own way 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.

“When I read for pleasure, I read for voice, and Loa’s voice is so true, so bone-dry funny, so enormously sad....Brava Blythe Woolston for giving this girl’s voice to the world.”
—Kathe Koja, author of Headlong

“Blythe Woolston’s Loa Lindgren—like Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster or Sapphire’s Precious Jones—is marvelously tenacious, off-beat, and resilient. This is a startling and believable voice.”
—Julie Schumacher, author of Black Box

“The Freak Observer is at once tender and shocking, smart and edgy, emotionally rich and emotionally raw. Woolston writes with what seems like great ease yet with great originality.”
—Christina Meldrum, author of Madapple

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Woolston's morbid and layered debut delves into the shattered life of 16-year-old Loa, whose younger sister, Asta, died of a genetic mutation and who, more recently, lost a friend in a tragic accident. Loa suffers the effects of PTSD, including vivid nightmares and flashbacks, which are gracefully written and interspersed throughout. Amid their grief over Asta's death and financial problems, Loa's parents neglect her pain as the family tries to scrape by. "After all those years of fighting hard, we lost. Now we get drunk. We hit each other. When the truck won't start, we punch the windshield so hard the shatterproof glass breaks. Is this depression or anger?" she asks. Loa is strong, but overburdened and isolated; laced with bleak humor, her deadened, searching narration carries this dark and highly promising first novel. The chapters begin with questions or statements, usually drawn from physics, biology, or math, which tie in to Loa's struggles ("What should you do if you are stuck on frictionless ice? Assume you are nude and there is no atmospheric resistance") as she tries to find her way. Ages 12-18. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
Loa Lindgren is not a happy sixteen-year-old. She and her family are trying to find meaning in their lives after the death of Loa's sister Astra. One day, Loa's physics teacher, Mr. Banacek, tells her she can earn extra credit by fishing out a scrap of paper from a jar and writing an essay about the topic she randomly chooses: "Freak Observer (Boltzmann Brain)." Loa has no idea what a Freak Observer and Boltzmann brain are, but she is determined to find out. But Loa has lots of other issues to contend with like having bad dreams, weird visions, panic attacks, and the appearance of The Bony Guy (a metaphor for death?) She thinks she's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder ever since her sister died and has trouble coping with the real world. If losing her sister isn't enough for her to handle, Loa then sees her friend Esther get hit by a truck, her dog die, and her father lose his job. Loa is trying to make sense of her non-life, but things get worse when she meets Corey, who is a strange guy and has his own set of problems. When he is packed off to Europe, he sends her strange postcards that seem to serve no purpose but to make her life more miserable. Toward the end of the book, she realizes Corey is really talking about himself and not trying to make Loa's life more complicated. Things start to improve when she meets Jack, who is a bit strange, but shows Loa how he makes ceramic ducks. Author Woolston's first novel is a puzzle for the reader to figure out. She begins each chapter with a concept related to physics, like Orbital Physics, Applied Ballistics, or Constructive Interference, that supposedly connected to putting together the puzzle. There is so much going on and so many ideas thrown at the reader that notes might help in trying to decipher what the author is trying to say. In simple terms, Loa and her family need a different life, they need to find some happiness, and Loa needs to stop thinking about death and figure out how she fits into the realm of the huge universe. And who or what is the Freak Observer? Readers will have plenty of time to find out the answer if they can stay with this challenging book until the end. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi
VOYA - Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Loa has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from the death of her little sister, and the more recent death of a classmate—which she witnessed. She is on her own dealing with her nightmares of the Bony Guy (death) and panic attacks. She uses physics and alcohol to help herself through it. She has family, but they are in their own stages of grief and cannot reach out to Loa. Only side characters, Corey and Jack, breach the pain and grief to help her. Each chapter begins with pseudo-math and physics questions that set the tone of the chapters. Loa's voice is the story's strength. She's wry, observant, and honest in her narration. Without the strength of her voice, the book would completely fail. The story unravels very slowly which will leave readers wondering what has made Loa the way she is. The abrupt change of scenery and the introduction of Jack, the non-neurotypical guy, bring about the tidy, yet hopeful, ending. This melancholic contemporary novel has many stellar moments that will appeal to issue-driven novel readers, but will need to be handsold through booktalking to reach a wider teen audience. Reviewer: Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Kevin Sawyer
Sixteen-year-old Loa Lindgren witnesses a gruesome car accident that takes the life of her best friend, Esther. The event leaves Loa with a debilitating case of post-traumatic stress disorder. A mysterious figure known as the Bony Guy—death incarnate—terrifies her through vivid hallucinations and haunts her dreams at night. When Loa's cherished baby sister Asta dies from medical complications, her already-broken family unravels even more. Loa meets Corey, a confident and peculiar schoolmate, who persuades her to join the debate team. But as their strange friendship blossoms, Corey abruptly leaves for Europe. Without friends or family to help, Loa begins to cope with her condition through, of all things, theoretical astrophysics. Loa's mom enrolls at a university and the onceprivate and rural family find themselves connecting to each other and learning what it means to move on. Reviewer: Kevin Sawyer
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 8 Up—Jessica Almasy brings to life Blythe Woolston's William C. Morris Debut Award-winning novel (Carolrhoda, 2010) with a dark tone that matches the intensity of the story. Loa, 16, often uses her science teacher's lessons to describe the life swirling around her. Each of the book's chapters is introduced by a relevant science theory or problem. Loa's life is filled with deep layers of sadness intensified by post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She lost her younger sister to a genetic disorder, her best friend to a brutal accident that she witnessed, and her parents to alcohol. Haunted by vividly disturbing dreams and flashbacks, Loa is navigating through her life while trying to define herself apart from these traumas. Listeners will sympathize with Loa as she struggles to cope with her reality and especially when a seemingly caring boy takes advantage of her. The narrator's pacing and delivery makes this sound like a novel in verse, with broken sentences and harder punctuations in select spots. While this is distracting at first, it subtly becomes more natural and fits Loa's feelings of being disconnected.—Stephanie A. Squicciarini, Fairport Public Library, NY
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Sixteen-year-old Loa Lindgren's family is emotionally splintered and drifting following the death of her younger sister Asta, whose Rett syndrome necessitated constant care and kept the family on a rigid schedule. Plagued by PTSD and nightmares about death, Loa clings to household chores, watching over her younger brother, and her beloved physics to rebuild a sense of normalcy. With no real plot, the novel feels fragmentary, mirroring the protagonist's feelings of disconnection. Incidents such as the death of her classmate in the opening pages, Loa's extra-credit physics project on the phenomenon of the freak observer (Boltzmann brain paradox), and her failed relationship with her debate partner are explained in chunks of narrative scattered throughout the text, which may confuse some readers. However, the author has created a likable narrator in Loa. Readers will root for a happy ending, though probably not be surprised by the deliberately ambiguous one that nonetheless hints at a hopeful future. Teens will either love or loathe the book with no middle ground likely for such a unique, disturbing, creative story.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
Kirkus Reviews
Readers meet 16-year-old Loa in her guidance counselor's office as she is being encouraged to return to her schoolwork after witnessing her friend's death in a road accident. Although physically battered and bruised, Loa seems disengaged, which is surprising until it quickly becomes clear that this horrific event is one in a series, including the death of her baby sister, that has torn her family to shreds. This text provides a sharp snapshot of Loa's life as she battles PTSD from these events and attempts to conquer related vivid death-related dreams and hallucinations. Anchoring each chapter is a short question or statement, generally related to science, that ties to the forthcoming chapter—although Woolston makes readers work to see the connection, enabling them to understand Loa on another deeper level. A keenly observant narrator noticing life's small details, Loa holds nothing back, which is both riveting and heartbreaking. An auspicious debut for both the author and Carolrhoda's new Lab imprint. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455815920
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 6/20/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 13 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 5.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Blythe Woolston is a reader. Right now, she makes her living indexing scholarly books. She has also worked as a writing teacher, library clerk, and production coordinator for a computer book publisher. Writing books is a new way for her to love reading.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A look at the mind of a teenager in the throes of PTSD

    All Loa got for her troubles was a smack upside the head with a toilet plunger. No "I'm soooo glad you are safe." No "I love you," just a dirty old plunger. "Same-ol, same-ol" in the Lindgren family. Her friend, Esther, had been splattered across the road by a truck. She could picture her running down the embankment and then . . . the driver was out in the road yelling and puking. The trooper had tried to console her in his own funny way by saying that some people ran toward an accident while others ran away. So what kind of person just froze in place and time? Her only consolation prize was that plunger and her father saying, "You could'a been the dead one." It wouldn't be very long before Loa probably wished she was. Mrs. Bishop, the guidance counselor at school, wasn't much help and everyone else thought of her as "that dead girl's friend" and that simply wasn't cool. Loa had a "glitch in [her] brain" and in her dreams she saw Esther's heart in the laundry basket. She didn't want to sleep because she'd see that heart. Cleaning all night solved that, but she couldn't stay awake forever. They used to call it "shellshock," but now it's called PTSD. They gave Loa six weeks of "grief counseling" because of her screaming at night and nightmares that brought everything back. At the end of her counseling she was supposed to be all cured, but she knew that Esther couldn't "be alive and dead at the same time like Schrödinger's imaginary cat." Esther was dead and that was that. It used to be that everyone had their own little orbit around her younger sister, Asta. Now "there were pages missing from Asta's book" and everyone had to tend to her because she never walked, talked, and had to wear diapers. Even Little Harold's life evolved around her until "The Bony Guy" came to get her. Loa knew she had problems and knew that "At least 25 percent of trauma victims have repetitive dreams of the event with feelings of intense rage, fear, or grief," but when the heck was she going to recover from this funk? Was anyone ever going to look at her instead of seeing a dead girl in her eyes? Was the best she was going to get was a toilet plunger up the side of her head? This is an amazingly funny, yet tragic story about Loa Lindgren, a girl who is suffering from PTSD. Loa is so into her own mind that her intellect isn't quite holding hands with reality. The story emanates from the inner reaches of her mind. We not only learn about her fears, but also in this tragicomedy we are treated to Loa's remarkable sense of humor. For example, when someone tells her to take care she claims she won't be responsible for her actions if she hears it again because she knows how to take care. "I can wash dishes, pull out slivers, sharpen a chainsaw, thaw out frozen pipes, pack a lunch, mop floors, serve five hot plates to a table, get poop out of a little boy's underwear, and sterilize a nasogastric tube." I haven't read such a good YA novel in some time and had a hard time putting it down. If you want to read a stunning, well written tragicomedy, this is definitely the book to pick up! Quill says: This debut novel by Blythe Woolston will simply wow the reader with the ingenious look at the mind of a teenage girl in the throes of PTSD!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2010

    A clever, funny and emotionally charged read.

    Blythe Woolston's first novel is cleverly written and captivating. The narrative character of Loa, is a complex, candid and often humorous one. Although Loa is a strong and extraordinary young woman with troubling nightmares, uncommon responsibilities and a shocking childhood past, she is still a girl easy to relate to and easy to love. Poignant and touching, this story has a natural and easy flow that sucks in the reader, making them desperate to know how it all turns out for poor Loa Lindrgren.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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