Book Review: The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

7891427There are some books that you do an unkindness to when you read them too fast. I think this might be one of those books. Although I love thinking about physics, especially the quantum kind, I don’t have a physics brain. Or a math brain. Or a very practical brain in general. But I understand the need for patterns, if only in a metaphorical sense and appreciate the beauty inherent in science and scientific theories.

Loa Lundgren, the protagonist in Woolston’s The Freak Observer, loves physics too for the same reasons. The difference is she actually understands what she is talking about. Yet her love of physics is not enough ballast to support her through the grief of losing her little sister, who was ill with a rare genetic mutation, and her family’s inability to cope with it. Nor is it enough to help her through the death of her only friend which may or may not have been a suicide and her abandonment of her debate partner/friends with benefits who left her to go to a school in Europe. She has terrible nightmares and a growing obsession/fear of death, who she calls the bony man, but there’s nobody there to help her. She must deal with her bad dreams, her fears, she must deal with everything on her own.

Sounds cheerful hey? I realize that this summary is enough to make most people run the other way. Don’t. I think there’s is more than meets the eye here. I have that sensation you get when you are walking down the street and you pass somebody you know but your reaction is so delayed that by the time you register their face you have already passed them.

Or does that only happen to me? I can be very slow on the uptake, clearly.

I hate to use these adjectives, but I think this book might be complicated and subtle. The reason I say might is because I am not sure…I read it so fast I think I missed a major theme which tied in tot he concept of the Freak Observer, which I also failed to grasp (and the internet doesn’t have much on it either. An indecipherable abstract for a scholarly paper on the multiverse is about it. Googling Botzmann’s brain helps though). I think this book might be about observing our world. Interpreting it and how the lenses of our own experiences/fears/emotional insanity can steer us wrong- we see signs and meaning where there is none and ignore the real stuff. I think. I might have to read it again.

Either way, I liked it. I liked how each chapter starts with either a physics problem , or an astronomy fact. I liked the character of Loa, so lost and vulnerable yet witty and tough. The boys in her life were also very original, complicated ands real- sort of the mirror image of John Green’s girl characters, so bravo Woolston on that. There are also some laugh out loud moments. I think the book might wrap up rather quickly- at least it seemed to spiral into a conclusion a little too fast, where Loa goes from being not all right to all right pretty fast. Still. Good characters. Good insights. Good preoccupations with life, death, love, friendship and what the hell it all means.  In a nutshell, good stuff.

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