***This book was reviewed via Lola’s Blog Tours
Erin Lee’s Freak is a poignant tale of loss, acceptance, and second chances. This powerful story should be required high-school reading. No, strike that. Why mollycoddle middle-schoolers who can be just as spiteful as high-schoolers and ignorant adults, especially given the current political climate of the US. Perhaps it would engender more open-minded behaviour.
Part one of this heart-wrenching novel follows the family of Sam in the wake of her suicide. Sam had spent much of her scarce twenty years of life being considered a ‘freak’. You are given clues as to why, but it’s not til the end of her section that you learn the full truth. It has been a year since Sam passed, and her mother and sister are still struggling with the aftermath, and the regrets of not being supportive. Throughout each of these chapters, we have Sam speaking a lá The Lovely Bones, from a place she calls cloud space, where certain souls wait before being assigned a new life. Sam is just on the verge of being reborn.
The second half of the book follows Willow, whose best friend Ryan is labelled as a ‘freak’ for having gone through a goth phase in middle-school. Ryan is gay, but does his utmost to hide it. These chapters bounce between Ryan, Willow, and Willow’s mum, Sarah. Willow and Sarah are open and accepting, but don’t understand why Ryan doesn’t just come out to his parents, and at school. They believe it may quell the bullying behaviour. At the least, they wish he would tell the guidance counselor or principal of the bullying, which isn’t just emotional, but physical.
Ryan frustrated, feeling people wouldn’t understand. Indeed, his mum seems quite set that Ryan and Willow will get married someday and have kids. Yet, Willow’s (and Willow’s parents’) acceptance of all that Ryan is mean the difference between life and death, and how he copes. Willow keeps him grounded. Her support helps him to eventually come out, with mixed results. But not only does he have Willow, he now has James and is working to cultivate that relationship.
This book made me cry, and frustrated me in equal measure. I’m not LGBTQ, but I do know what it is to grow up being labelled as a ‘freak’. I’m a strong introvert, and a strong empath, as well as being therian, something little known and understood, except outside certain spiritual groups.. People and their penchant for vile behaviour hurts me, no matter who it’s directed at. I want to fix it, but a young child can’t. So, I preferred to hide with my books, and garnered the label of ‘overly sensitive’ as well.
Now, I do help when I can. I’ve always been pretty open-minded. I can admit today that I hold a strong prejudice about one thing though- wilful ignorance. I’ve known plenty of people who were of the LGBTQ community, and people of all manner of cultures and spiritualities/religions. I love it all. It’s like Vulcan’s IDIC in Star Trek. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations. If everyone were the same, that’d be hella boring. I’m all for anything that raises awareness of how destructive close-minded, ridiculing, and bullying behaviour can be. Kudos to Erin, and all those like her, who write about this, and are actively available for young adults learning to cope with the nastiness of others while still maintaining who they are.