The Song of an Innocent Bystander

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When she was nine-years-old, Freda walked into an underground restaurant and straight into a terrifying ordeal&150for thirty-six hours she was at the mercy of a deranged gunman. While her parents waited outside, Freda allied herself with the one person who could possibly save her&150the gunman. Ten years later, a newspaper reporter is seeking the truth about Freda. He knows about the writing on the napkins. What really happened down there? This young-adult novel hooks readers from its first riveting page ...

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2004 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Glued binding. Paper over boards. With dust jacket. 262 p. Audience: Children/juvenile; Young adult. New book with remainder mark(s).

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Overview

When she was nine-years-old, Freda walked into an underground restaurant and straight into a terrifying ordeal&150for thirty-six hours she was at the mercy of a deranged gunman. While her parents waited outside, Freda allied herself with the one person who could possibly save her&150the gunman. Ten years later, a newspaper reporter is seeking the truth about Freda. He knows about the writing on the napkins. What really happened down there? This young-adult novel hooks readers from its first riveting page and keeps them guessing up to the shocking finish.

When she was nine-years old, Freda walked into an underground restaurant and straight into a terrifying ordeal. For thirty-six hours she was at the mercy of a deranged gunman. While her parents waited outside, Freda allied herself with the one person who could possibly save her--the gunman. Ten years later, a newspaper reporter is seeking the truth about Freda. He knows about the writing on the napkins. What really happened down there? This young-adult novel books readers from its first riveting page and keeps them guessing up to the shocking finish.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Ten years ago, Freda Opperman had the sort of life-altering experience that is instant front-page news: at the age of nine, she was held hostage by a gunman in a family restaurant. There were other hostages, too, but Freda seemed oddly apart from them; while her parents shopped next door, she had returned to the restaurant in pursuit of the Wild West sticker that should have accompanied her lunch. She had no relationship with anyone else at the restaurant, and no one she could count on. Each person was concerned with his or her own survival. Ostensibly, as demanded by the gunman, in the care of the restaurant manager, Freda did not know what to make of the situation. After thirty-six hours with a deranged gunman spitting conspiracy theories, Freda was glad to return to the arms of her mother. But she was a very different girl than she was at the beginning of the siege. Now, years later, she is still struggling with the aftermath of that terrible event. What does it mean to have survived, when two other people died? What was her role in the situation? What dark secrets does Freda keep about those days? Can she really move forward without coming to terms with the past? The novel is a grim, gripping story that examines serious issues of identity, society, and survival against the harsh background of brutal trauma. 2002, Dutton/Penguin, Ages 12 to 16.
—Heidi Hauser Green
VOYA
John Wayne O'Grady, filled with anger and self-righteousness, enters a Family Value restaurant, pulls out a shotgun, and tells the customers and employees that it is time for Family Value to pay its dues. Among those present is Freda, a nine-year-old girl oblivious to the gunman, who stands at the counter demanding the Wild West sticker that she should have gotten with her Noonburger. Bone steadily builds the intensity of the siege from there. The story is told by Freda in jumps between that day and her life ten years later when she begins to deal with the terror of those thirty-six hours as it resurfaces in returning memories. In her fear and loneliness for her parents who had already exited the restaurant, young Freda finds kindness in O'Grady's manipulation and is willing to be his comrade. He confides in her and allows her to hold his gun. She feels powerful and needed. Half her life later she still suffers from confusion and guilt about her part in the death of O'Grady and another man. Although Bone's skillful writing succeeds in creating for the reader the same sense of powerlessness that the hostages felt all those years ago, too many story threads are dropped and too many questions go unanswered to merit a higher rating. Nevertheless this odd book and Freda stayed in this reviewer's mind for days, making a conversation with someone else who had read the book necessary to talk out these thoughts. This suspense-filled mystery is dark, disturbing, and haunting with its many layers of symbolism, metaphors, and unsettling situations that invade one's head much as O'Grady got into Freda's. Sophisticated readers who like dark mind games will enjoy this book. VOYA Codes 2Q 3P S (Betterediting or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Dutton, 276p., Ages 15 to 18.
—C. J. Bott
KLIATT
This novel has been quite successful in Australia where it was first published. Bolinda Audiobooks has released an audiobook version, reviewed in this issue of KLIATT (See also for more details about the novel.) The book is about a crime and its aftermath. A nine-year-old girl, Freda, is taken hostage in a fast-food restaurant by a madman angry at a world filled with large corporations, such as fast-food restaurant chains. (Freda had run in to pick up something, with her parents just outside; the fact that she was isolated from her parents during the siege is significant.) The novel looks at Freda years later, when she is still emotionally paralyzed by the long-ago trauma; and the narration cuts back to the event itself, from the child Freda's point of view. Freda at 19 cannot accept the little Freda who during the long hours of the siege was so affected by the gunman, seeking his approval, following his orders, but confused as well. There are many layers to this story, especially the characterizations of Freda's mother, a powerful lawyer who has devoted ten years to defending Freda and protecting her. But of course, the mother wasn't actually there during the siege, and Freda knows her mother doesn't know the whole truth. The person who may know something is a university student who approaches Freda for an interview for a college newspaper—this young man's identity is hidden until the end. It turns out he was the other child present ten years ago, a child sheltered by his mother during the siege, which made all the difference in dealing with the post-trauma effects. YAs interested in crime and psychology will be quite taken by this novel. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended forjunior and senior high school students. 2002, Penguin, Dutton, 262p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Freda, 19, was held hostage ten years ago during a gunman's siege of a restaurant in this psychological novel by Ian Bone (Dutton, 2004). When Freda agrees to be interviewed about the incident, the reporter stirs up memories that she had long suppressed. The story is told in alternating sections and from different points of view: Freda today, Freda at the time of the siege, the gunman, and sections titled "Napkin" that were written by another hostage. The tangled plot and multiple viewpoints as well as the shift back and forth between first and third person make for a confusing, yet compelling listen. The story spirals more and more out of control during Freda's meeting with the reporter. Who is the reporter and how does he know so much about the incident? What is on the napkins? What exactly happened during the siege? Caroline Lee reads with pitch perfect emotion as she captures the young Freda's precarious situation and feelings, as well as the teen's apathy that slowly turns to growing rage. Lee's rendition of gunman John Wayne O'Grady's increasingly unstable behavior is also spot on. Teens who like slowly paced, complicated, involved plots will probably enjoy this novel.-Charli Osborne, Oxford Public Library, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A searing account of violence with heartbreaking long-term effects. Ten years ago, Freda survived a siege in a family restaurant; she and 12 others were taken hostage by a lone gunman. Unlike another child whose mother was present, nine-year-old Freda was alone: she'd returned to the restaurant for a fleeting moment without her parents, and that's when everything happened. The 36-hour siege is told in flashbacks interspersed with Freda's current life, which is paralyzed by emotional wounds. The gunman "stuck his fingers into my brain and messed about until I walked away empty." Psychologically scarring interactions with both another hostage and the gunman have left Freda battling terror and profound confusion about her experience and culpability. Her face was splashed over newspapers as the innocent victim, the icon of hope, but her ambivalent feelings about these symbols-and about her relationships with her mother, father, and a mysterious stranger who inexplicably knows impossible secrets-plague her incessantly. Bone's deft, poetic writing does full justice to the heavy complexities of the human psyche. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525472827
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/3/2004
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 14 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Bone is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, which have been published in his native Australia, as well as in the United States, England, Korea, and Germany. The Song of an Innocent Bystander was short-listed for Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council of Australia.

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Read an Excerpt

It took precisely fifteen seconds for John Wayne O'Grady to respond to the sound of the girl's voice. Fifteen seconds for the dispassionate weight of the shotgun in his hands to become leaden and dead. He saw the girl at the counter with her hands crossed in front of her and an imperious expression on her face. He saw the fat man turn instinctively toward the girl and speak, asking her to sit down. He saw the manager's shoulders tense up as he remembered that he was under the threat of death if he uttered a word. He saw the manager turn back apologetically, eyes locked on the lethal weapon. He saw the girl register fear as she realized for the first time that there was an armed man in the room.

Then the gun grew uncomfortable in his hands, and he shifted his grip slightly. A barely audible gasp escaped from the manager's lips, enough to spark O'Grady back to reality.

Fifteen seconds.

"Didn't like that, huh?" A lopsided smile creased O'Grady's features as he watched the manager wipe his brow. He shifted the shotgun slightly, subtle movements that just might be the precursor to a more dramatic action. He seemed to take pleasure in the way the manager's eyes were locked on the Barrett's trigger, the way his skin was sweaty, his eyelids puffy.

Then the girl at the counter spoke again, this time in a small voice. "What's going on?"

The terrified customers in the restaurant watched as O'Grady shifted his gaze from the manager to the girl. The gunman was tall, so he had to look down a long way from his tabletop perch to meet the girl's eyes. O'Grady frowned, then rested the gun momentarily, eased it from the burden of threatener, and ran his hand through his thinning hair. Flecks of dandruff flew onto his shoulder. The face of O'Grady was inscrutable, a stone wall of emptiness, yet the terrified hostages studied it intensely as they waited, fearful of what he might do next.

"You," said O'Grady, pointing to the sweating manager. "You've been trained in the ways of Family Value restaurants, right? Trained to cook with packaged bread buns and frozen meat. You've been trained to deal with a sanitized workplace that fits into neat, plastic molds."

Close to panic, the manager, Theo Constantine, couldn't concentrate on the words. He was nervous at the best of times, spending most of his working day as if every mishap was a catastrophe. Right now the mildly jittery, bumbling, aloof manager was caught in a frozen state of hysteria.

"What's the procedure?" asked O'Grady, staring the manager in the eye.

Constantine squeaked a tiny, "What?" out of his constricted throat.

"I know how your multinational masters think," said O'Grady. "I know you were trained to deal with difficult children during the endless hours of manager's school you attended. So what's the procedure? Or weren't you listening as well as all the other managers? Eh? Those boys in their pressed trousers and clean white shirts and their Hi, I'm Nobody badges pinned neatly to their chests. What's the procedure to get her out of the way?" O'Grady nodded toward the girl.

"Her?" asked Constantine. He was met with the steely gaze of O'Grady. "You want me to deal with the girl?" O'Grady didn't move. He watched as the manager sighed and walked over to the girl at the counter, asking, "Where are your parents?"

"I don't know..."

"Did they go to the bathroom?"

"I don't know!"

"So far, so bad," said O'Grady as the manager took the girl by the arm and led her over to the woman with the small boy. Both mother and son backed themselves farther against the wall.

"Is this your daughter?"

"No."

"Would you mind keeping an eye on her..."

He didn't bother finishing his sentence. The woman shook her head so emphatically she was in danger of tearing a neck muscle. The manager looked around for another possible mother or father figure and received equally flat refusals from the other customers. The girl clutched his hand tightly, a tense, almost squinting expression on her face. She looked up at the manager, her only port in this maelstrom of madness, but he didn't want her, either. He steered her to a fenced -- in play area at the back of the restaurant with an order to stay put. But as soon as the manager had turned away the girl stood up, tears flowing down her cheeks, and followed him back to the counter.

O'Grady laughed out loud. "Can you see it?" he shouted. "The first lesson in the reeducation of the people has been played out to perfection. This girl represents everything that is wrong with the so -- called Family Value code of conduct. She won't be shoved into a standard -- sized hole. She won't be forced to fit into their artificial environment. She is real, not Family Value. There is no family value in Family Value. There's only plastic and wastepaper and tasteless saturated fats. There's only useless fools like this manager here who follow the company line and peddle their lies but can't deal with anything human!"

The manager flushed a deep red. Turning here and there for some kind of outlet for his embarrassment, he saw the girl behind him and spoke in a harsh voice, "I thought I told you to stay put!" The girl burst into hysterical sobs and a murmur of outrage broke out among the customers.

O'Grady nodded sagely, then raised the Barrett up higher and aimed it at the manager's head. "Get the hell back here," he snapped.

"Oh, jeez," quivered the manager, his eyes locked on the Barrett. "What do you want to point that thing at me for?"

Since pointing a weapon was such an unambiguous and clear act, O'Grady did not answer. Instead, he turned toward the terrified customers, seeking out the irresponsible parents who had allowed their child to be subjected to the humiliation of the "Family Value Way."

"Whose kid is this?" asked O'Grady. "Yours? Yours?"

The customers shook their heads, looked down at their feet, or adopted blank expressions. None claimed the child. No mother stepped forward to soothe her sobs, to hold her close. No father emerged to pick his daughter up and console her.

"What the hell is going on here?" shouted O'Grady.

"It appears that she's here without..." began the manager, but O'Grady silenced him with a wave of the Barrett.

"Where the hell are her parents? Are they hiding? Where are they?"

He pointed the shotgun at every corner, swinging the barrel around wildly, sweeping it past the heads of frightened customers and terrified children.

"I don't know," shouted the manager desperately. "Please calm down..."

"What the hell is going on here? Are they trying to be heroes?"

"No. They..."

"Because I'll kill 'em if they are."

"No one is trying to be a hero..."

"Come out now! Come out or I'll start shooting for the hell of it!" He cocked his shooting elbow up high, eye to the sight, his cheek muscles twitching with tension.

The manager opened his mouth to shout "No!" He sucked a deep breath into his lungs, swelling his chest cavity, expanding the musculature and excess fat around his rib cage. But before he could force the air out, another voice shouted.

"They're not here, you horrible man. They're not here!"

O'Grady lowered the shotgun slowly and stood on the table panting, the sweat pouring from his forehead.

"What?" he said.

"They're not here," repeated the girl, tears pouring down her cheeks.

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