When Joyce Carol Oates wrote Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, her first book for young adults, I must admit I was skeptical. I figured, "Another adult writer thinks it will be easy to write for children." Luckily, my cynicism proved unjustified, and after reading Freaky Green Eyes, I realized that Oates' first novel for teens was not a fluke. Set in the chic suburbs of Seattle, Freaky Green Eyes is a chilling, suspenseful tale with an everyday family at its center. Handsome, well-respected Reid Pierson is a local celebrity a former football player turned television sportscaster with a beautiful wife named Krista. Their oldest child, Todd, a college athlete, is the son of Reid's first wife, who died in a boating accident. There's also 15-year-old Francesca, nicknamed Franky, a swimmer and a diver, and 10-year-old Samantha.

Underneath this perfect exterior, though, the foundations are cracking. When Franky is almost raped, her response to the violence brings out Freaky, her strong inner persona. Before the summer is done, she'll call on all of Freaky's instincts for survival. It's Franky who chronicles this dark story. Her mother is absent more and more, and Franky notices strange bruises on her wrists and neck. Everyone is tiptoeing around the house, and keeping Dad happy is the order of the day. Both parents, as it turns out, are in a battle for the hearts of their children.

Is Mom having an affair? Will the Piersons divorce or separate? And just who is to blame for the chasm developing between them? When Mom and her male friend, Mero, suddenly disappear, the novel takes a tragic turn. Franky's attempt to solve the mystery of her mother's whereabouts leads her to examine what is real and unreal in her own life. Her story moves along at the breathless pace that readers of all ages have come to expect from Oates. A reviewer friend once explained that the difference between an acceptable book and a great book is that each page of a great book begs to be turned. By that, or any other definition, Freaky Green Eyes is one of them.

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