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The Freak

by Carol Matas

Jade, 15, living in Winnipeg, recovers from a life-threatening attack of meningitis to discover that she is changed. She now has flash visions of the future, can read people’s thoughts, and has the ability to see coloured auras. At first, she predicts only minor disasters such as an exploding science experiment, but when she starts to sense in advance the acts of anti-Semitic violence occurring in her community, her distress over her abilities becomes acute. At this point, the plot changes gear from the psychological-psychic with a subplot of teen romance to the detective thriller, as Jade plants a hidden microphone at the home of a war criminal, outwits the police, and saves the synagogue from a bomb attack.

This story is based on an appealing, inventive idea and the action rolls along smoothly enough, but given the intensity of the material – mental breakdown and hate crimes – the effect is not as strong or engaging as might be expected. The Freak is not a subtle book and it has some problems: the narration does not remain consistently first person; Jade has a habit of explaining matters to the readers. And in the opening chapters of the book, Jade remains in a confused state about what’s happening to her for too long; readers will have long since figured out that she can predict the future. Although Jade’s confusion may be psychologically realistic, it slows things down and delays us from jumping wholeheartedly into the altered world. When it comes to writing style, “kinda” and “sorta” substitute for any real attempt to capture the diction and cadence of adolescent speech. And when a character is described as “attractive” (that generic word), the author is skating close to the language of series romance.

In one respect, however, The Freak is fresh, even ground-breaking. Matas chooses to see Jade’s dilemma as not just psychological or even ethical, but as having a spiritual and religious dimension. Religious questions are of deep interest to many young adults yet these issues are remarkably absent from their literature. The existence and nature of God, the conflict between free will and determinism, and the problem of evil are all questions of importance for young adults. It is when Jade thinks about these questions, and when she discusses them with other characters, that she deepens into a real person and her genuine voice comes through. I just wish I had encountered this person more consistently throughout the whole story.


Reviewer: Sarah Ellis

Publisher: Key Porter Books


Price: $8.95

Page Count: 120 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 1-55013-852-9

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 1997-3


Age Range: ages 12+