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Authors: Blythe Woolston

The Freak Observer

BOOK: The Freak Observer
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Blythe Woolston doesn't remember learning how to read, but she suspects someone taught her as a ploy to keep her out of trouble in a slightly dangerous world full of bears and chainsaws and swift rivers. Today she reads books and writes the indexes that appear on their final pages. She lives in a wonder cupboard: one drawer is full of peppercorns, another holds the skull of a
hoplitomeryx
, another collects lint that might be useful in making bandages if it comes to that.
The Freak Observer
is her first novel, and it earned the William C. Morris award for best debut novel in 2011. She is also the author of
Catch and Release
, a novel. Follow her blog at
www.blythewoolston.com
.

 

Praise for The Freak Observer

“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

 

 

 

 

 

Text copyright © 2010 by Blythe Woolston

 

Carolrhoda LabTMis a trademark of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.

 

All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means— electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc., except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

 

Carolrhoda LabTM
An imprint of Carolrhoda Books
A division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.
241 First Avenue North
Minneapolis, MN 55401 U.S.A.

 

Website address:
www.lernerbooks.com

 

Cover and interior photographs © iStockphoto.com/Alexander Den (heart);
© BBS United/The Image Bank/Getty Images (brain).

 

Birdlike creature on cover, detail from left wing of “The Temptation of St. Anthony” triptych by Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450–1516). Located at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal. Outline by Bill Hauser/Independent Picture Service.

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Woolston, Blythe.

The Freak Observer / by Blythe Woolston.

p. cm.

Summary: Suffering from a crippling case of post-traumatic stress disorder, sixteen-year-old Loa Lindgren tries to use her problem solving skills, sharpened in physics and computer programming, to cure herself.

ISBN: 978–0–7613–6212–8 (trade hard cover : alk. paper)

[1. Post-traumatic stress disorder—Fiction. 2. Emotional problems—Fiction.]

I. Title.

PZ7.W88713Fr 2010
2010000989

[Fic]—dc22

 

Manufactured in the United States of America
1 – BP – 7/15/10

 eISBN: 978-0-7613-6544-0 (pdf)

 eISBN: 978-1-4677-3179-9 (ePub)

 eISBN: 978-1-4677-3178-2 (mobi)

 

 

 

 

 

I got up and went to school because nobody said I couldn't. I have a little yellow green blush of bruise under my jaw. It's a nice piece of evidence for the physics of force. Once that energy was distributed along the rubber doohickey on the toilet plunger, the impact pressure was reduced.

I could raise my hand and tell the whole class what I learned about pressure and force when my dad clobbered me. It would reinforce today's concept. I have been observing physics in action, just as instructed. I don't raise my hand. I don't say a word.

. . .

I'm in school, and I'm trying to figure out why my physics teacher wants to sleep on a bed of nails in the first place— and that's distracting me from the math, which is honest and elegant and doesn't require any human motivation. I'm in school, but I don't even make it through my first class before I receive a little note informing me to visit Mrs. Bishop in the counseling office. So I'm sitting outside her door watching first period tick away. I'm pretty sure I'm missing class so she can tell me that I shouldn't miss class. That's the way things work.

. . .

“Loa, come on in,” says Mrs. Bishop. “I understand you were friends with Esther.” She has to get right to the point. There is only one of her, and there are a lot of students.

What do I say to that? We rode the same bus. We went to grade school together for nine years. I know Esther liked pink meringue cookies.

I have a picture of us from first grade. We are standing on the steps of the school for picture day, Esther, Reba, and I. Esther is wearing a long dress that makes her look like she belongs on a wagon train. Reba has on her favorite Mulan T-shirt and a pink, ruffled skirt. I have a cocoa stain down my front, and I'm trying to look really fierce, so I have my hands curled up in little fists and I'm scowling. I wasn't angry. I just thought it would be cool.

My mother didn't think it was cool. She had forgotten that it was picture day. She would have made sure I wore a better shirt. The cocoa stain was bad, but I made it even worse by frowning.

I remember the first time I saw Esther. It was before we even went to school.

My dad decided I needed a puppy. Esther's family had some, so we drove up to their place. They had pole corrals right in their yard. Their house was even older than our house, but it was a lot bigger too. It had to be big. It seemed to me like there were a lot of people in that family. Some of Esther's aunts and uncles and cousins might have been there. Or maybe my measuring stick for “a lot of people” was my own family, so more than three was a lot.

My dad told me to stay in the car while he got out. He went in the house to talk to Esther's dad. In a little while, the kids had all come out to stare at me in the car. I was staring back. Then one of the big girls went into the house and came out with a can of creamed corn. She poured it on the dirt. A whole bunch of puppies came tumbling out from under the porch and started licking up the yellow mess. Then a big pig came around the corner and headed for the corn. Before he could get there, a little tiny girl picked up a stick of firewood and whacked that pig as hard as she could right in the head. The other kids started laughing, but that little girl just stood her ground. She wouldn't let that pig get close to that creamed corn. That little tiny girl was Esther.

Then my dad came out of the house. Esther's dad pointed at a couple of the puppies. My dad reached down and scooped one up.

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